USA Taekwondo Faces Human Trafficking Legal Claim

Mar 29, 2019

By Roc (Monica A. Rochon)
On Friday, May 4, 2018 plaintiff Heidi Gilbert filed a civil action complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), United States Taekwondo Association (USAT), United States Center for SafeSport (SafeSport) and defendants Steven and Jean Lopez based on allegations of negligence, human trafficking, and sexual misconduct. The lead plaintiff, Heidi Gilbert, is one of at least 50 former USAT athletes in the complaint. Former athletes Amber Means, Mandy Meloon, Gabriela Joslin, and Kay Poe are listed in the complaint while individuals 6-50 are listed as Jane Does. Based on the allegations the plaintiffs have four claims.
The plaintiffs allege that the USAT was aware that former athletes and coaches “Jean Lopez and Steven Lopez were routinely sexually exploiting, assaulting, and raping multiple female athletes that were entrusted into [their] protection” (SAC [D.E.68]. The USAT allegedly “participated in a venture to transport and traffic Plaintiffs…around the globe to be used for the sexual benefit of Defendants Jean and Steven Lopez…(Id at p.130) Thus, “USAT reportedly acted “as the travel agent and commercial funder for the Lopez brothers…” (Id at p. 131). The plaintiff’s allegations towards the USAT and USOC consistently state that they neglected to act given the information they knew about sexual misconduct in connection to USAT between 1994 and 2006 (Id at 362-722).
Heidi Gilbert, one of the plaintiffs first filed a complaint about Jean Lopez on April 25, 2018 (ECF No.1). Gilbert went on to amend her complaint on May 4, 2018. (ECF No. 6). The First Amended Complaint (FAC) then included the former USAT athletes and additional plaintiffs Means, Meloon, and Joslin. As stated in the complaint, the lawsuit has the following claims against the USOC:
Four federal claims pursuant to Masha’s Law, 18 U.S.C. 2255, and or 18 U.S.C 1959(a) (“Sex Trafficking Act”), for forced labor by means of threats of serious harm, sex trafficking of children, benefiting from a venture that engages in sex trafficking of children, and obstruction of sex trafficking enforcement;
A violation of the RICO Act;
Four state-law negligence-based claims;
A state-law outrageous conduct claim.
A Second Amended Complaint (SAC) was filed by the plaintiffs on Aug. 24, 2018 adding an additional former USAT athlete, Kay Poe and the U.S. center for SafeSport as an additional defendant. Kay Poe is not listed as a main plaintiff but her narrative is accounted for in the complaint. To date, the SAC upholds the allegations from the first amended complaint FAC.
Since the allegations from the plaintiffs on Sept. 24, 2018 the defendants, USAT Incorporated and USOC filed a civil action motioning to dismiss the plaintiffs SAC. The defendants argue that Under 18 U.S. S 1595 the plaintiffs’ federal claims must be dismissed because “the statue cannot be applied retroactively to support a civil cause of action for misconduct that allegedly occurred prior to Dec. 23, 2008 (Civil Action No. 18-cv-00981-CMA-MEH. pg. 9). Additionally, the defendants do not believe the SAC has alleged any facts to prove that the USOC “obstructed, attempted to obstruct, interfered, and or prevented the enforcement of” laws criminalizing “trafficking with respect to…slavery, (Case 1:18-cv-00981-CMA-MEH, pg.5).” The defendants argue that the same logic applies to the plaintiffs claiming under 18 U.S.C. 2255 “because claims arising prior to 2013 were subject to a six year statue of limitations”. The dilemma to date is that the obstruction allegations date back to April 25, 2008 which the court has determined are time-barred because this lawsuit was filed on April 25, 2018, 10 years prior. The plaintiffs however are more focused on the conduct of USAT in regards to the obstruction allegations.
The USOC is a federally-chartered, non-profit organization that facilitates athletic competition in the United States in connection to the Olympics, Paralympic, and Pan American Games. As a recognized National Governing Body (NGB) it “must independently decide and control all matters central to its governance, does not delegate decision-making and control, and is free from outside restraint.” 36 U.S. C 220522(a)(5). The USOC created the United States Center for SafeSport which is an initiative for the Olympic sport community; including athletes, coaches, parents, and organizations. SportSafe “recognizes, reduces, and responds to misconduct in sport under six primary tenants including emotional, physical, and sexual misconduct.”
These types of allegations of sexual misconduct question those in sport with positions of institutional authority and disqualifies and manipulates the athletes’ ability to consent, trust and hold their coaches accountable, let alone perform to their best ability at the highest level of competition. To date the Lopez brothers have been removed from their roles with the USAT organization. The USAT and USOC have called to dismiss all of the plaintiffs’ claims. As of Feb. 7, 2019 the case remains pending.
Roc (Monica A. Rochon) is a doctoral student in the Sports Management Department at Florida State University. Roc is studying the sociology of sport with interest in physical culture and the body.


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