SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge said he is inclined to open up records about why the United States allowed in an Irishman who was accused of sexually abusing women on the Olympic swim team he coached.
Freelance reporter Irvin Muchnick sued the Department of Homeland Security under the Freedom of Information Act in July 2015 after it gave him just four of the 102 pages it had on former coach George Gibney, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s.
Gibney was charged with sexually abusing his young female swimmers during the 1960s and 1970s, but the charges were dropped in 1994 when the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the allegations were too old to prosecute. Gibney then left Ireland for Scotland and eventually settled in Florida.
Muchnick, who is investigating sexual abuse in American amateur sports for a news story, believes the information DHS has on Gibney will show that U.S. authorities let him settle in the country despite the alleged crimes.
He also says the American Swimming Coaches Association pulled strings to make it happen.
The DHS called the assertion "vague" in a Sept. 1 motion for summary judgment.
But U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sided with Muchnick on Wednesday, finding the reporter's evidence sufficient to show that DHS admitted Gibney despite knowing that the charges against him had been dismissed on a technicality.
"This was no secret," Breyer wrote in the tentative order on the motion for summary judgment. "But it did not stop American authorities from allowing Gibney to enter the United States and remain here ever since."
Muchnick applauded the ruling in an interview, calling it "a historic and crucially important step in getting these victims some justice."
"It's also an important, historic step in holding swimming authorities in Ireland and in the United States to account for what appears to be years and decades of harboring Gibney in this country," Muchnick added.
Breyer's tentative order says he is prepared to order the DHS to disclose information about the accusations against Gibney, the decisions it made about his immigration benefits and the dates the documents were created.
In denying the government's first motion for summary judgment, Breyer in February found deficiencies in the Vaughn Index justifying withholding of documents. The government has since filed a supplemental index.
"Those details shed light on DHS's performance of its statutory duties and most certainly lets citizens know 'what their government is up to,'" Breyer wrote. "And given Gibney's past, it is enough to 'warrant a belief by a reasonable person' that — perhaps — more should have been done."
DHS said it refused to deliver the information for fear of revealing how it conducts background checks. But Breyer said that though it may redact documents that reveal its investigative techniques, it must release the information it has on Gibney.
"The allegations here are no secret," Breyer wrote — many people already know about them, they are easily accessible through Google and have been chronicled in a book — so Gibney has no privacy interests that prevent DHS from disclosing the information.
"And without a privacy interest, there can be no invasion of personal privacy, let alone an unwarranted one," Breyer added.
According to Muchnik's complaint, the 4 pages DHS gave him included a public alert published by AbuseWatch.net, which describes in detail the allegations and earlier journalistic investigations of Gibney's alleged "longstanding pattern" of sexually abusing young people.
The remaining 98 pages were blank except for a perfunctory notice of the FOIA exemption.
In his order, Breyer flagged what information DHS must disclose, and said he would issue a final order if the parties can't reach a deal.
Last year, Muchnick published "Concussion Inc.: The End of Football as We Know It" on the NFL's attempt to conceal research into how head trauma affects football players.
Muchnick is represented by Roy Gordet of Daly City, and DHS by U.S. Attorney James Scharf in San Jose.
Justice Department spokesman Abraham Simmons declined to comment.
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