STOCKTON — Following newly uncovered evidence, USA Swimming is now a defendant in a sexual abuse lawsuit involving one of its member clubs located in Stockton.
The amended lawsuit was filed in July.
In investigating coach Shunichi Fujishima’s alleged sexual abuse of a 12-year-old swimmer, attorneys Robert Allard and Lauren Cerri of the Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard law firm discovered evidence that several high-ranking USA Swimming officials, including President and CEO Tim Hinchey, had covered up sexual abuse allegations against a Stockton Swim Club assistant coach identified as Marco Villanueva.
Documents revealed that USA Swimming had prior knowledge of alleged sexual abuse by another coach at this club, buried a parent complaint, and with Hinchey’s knowledge, issued a mere warning to the coach to not engage in “concerning and very inappropriate” predatory behavior.
In early June 2017, a Stockton-area parent mailed a lengthy complaint to John Bitter, then a board member at USA Swimming and general chair for Pacific Swimming, accusing Villanueva of sexually abusing her 8th-grade daughter.
USA Swimming is the national governing body for the sport of swimming in the U.S. Pacific Swimming is one of USA Swimming’s subsidiaries, called “local swimming committees.”
On June 5, 2017, then USA Swimming Safe Sport Director Susan Woessner acknowledged receiving the parent complaint sent to Bitter.
In the complaint received by both Bitter and Woessner, the parent called her daughter’s coach “a sexual predator, a child molester, and rapist.” The parent also provided specific examples of the assistant coach engaging in predatory behavior with other underage females.
Woessner took it upon herself to investigate. She openly questioned the veracity of the mother’s claim and told the mother that she would contact the head coach concerning the allegations against Villanueva, which she did seven weeks later. Following the conversation with the head coach, Woessner then spoke to Villanueva.
With Hinchey and other high-ranking USA Swimming officials copied on the letter, Woessner simply issued a warning to Villanueva, who continues to be a coach in good standing with USA Swimming and continues to have access to young kids, according to the law firm.
In an email to Southern California News Group, Villanueva admitted to sending inappropriate texts but said that “no intercourse happened.” He also said that he is no longer coaching.
“These documents prove that nothing has changed in the way that USA Swimming handles sexual abuse complaints,” said Allard. “For Mr. Hinchey to tell Congress that USA Swimming’s ‘commitment to preventing child sexual abuse and providing a safe and healthy environment for our athletes is constant and long-standing’ is simply lip service intended to deceive and mislead the public. Less than one year after the Stockton complaint, Hinchey testified before Congress, stating, ‘I am deeply committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for children to grow, play, and compete.’
“USA Swimming allowed the coaches at this swim club to get away with the sexual abuse of their swimmers. If USA Swimming, Pacific Swimming and Mr. Hinchey had acted to stop this culture of abuse at Stockton Swim Club, my client would never have been sexually abused by Coach Fujishima.”
USA Swimming forced Woessner to resign in 2018 for previously being engaged in a “romantic relationship” with a coach whom she was entrusted with investigating for sexual misconduct. Bitter is currently facing embezzlement charges in Santa Clara County for misappropriating $600,000.
The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office announced on Jan. 14 that Fujishima, 23, was charged and arraigned on eight felony counts arising out of continuous sexual crimes against a minor under the age of 14. Those charges include lewd or lascivious act with a child under 14; oral copulation of a minor; penetration by a foreign object; statutory rape with a minor under 16; continuous sexual abuse of a child; sending or exhibiting harmful matter (nude photos of himself) to a minor; and possession or control of child pornography. Fujishima was also charged with attempting to dissuade a witness.
The allegations date from on or about May 12, 2018, when the victim was 12, until December, when the victim was 13.
The lawsuit accuses Fujishima of predatory grooming behavior, including “coach staying with the minor in a hotel during an out-of-town meet”; “engaging in social media interactions with her concerning personal matters”; “referring to her with pet names such as ‘babe’”; and “open display of provocative stretching and massages on the pool deck.”
At his arraignment, Fujishima was appointed an attorney and entered no plea. He remained in custody with bail set at $1,875,000 set due to his flight risk and danger to the community.
The District Attorney’s Sexual Assault (CASA) Unit within the Family Crimes Division is prosecuting this case. The SJCDA and Stockton Police detectives continue to investigate whether there are additional victims.
According to the law firm, Stockton Swim Club parents received an email stating that Fujishima would no longer be coaching, but they were provided with no other details.
Fujishima was banned by the U.S. Center for SafeSport on Feb. 19.
His LinkedIn profile describes him as CEO at Stockton Swim Club since November 2016.
“As the owner and head age group coach at the Stockton Swim Club, I am currently responsible for developing, planning, organizing, and leading the competitive swim program,” he wrote. “It’s important for me to lead, recruit, develop and supervise the coaching staff while communicating with team vision and goals. As the head coach, it is vital that I be able to communicate with not only the swimmers but the parents thoroughly. My position is also responsible for working with meet directors to plan, organize and schedule meets, as well as to collaborate and support the Governing Board in development of team budget, fee structure, and fundraising activities.”
Fujishima, also known as Coach Shun, was a member of the swim and dive team at University of the Pacific in 2016 and an intern for Swimming World magazine in 2017.