A top USA Water Polo official publicly confirmed for the first time last month that embattled CEO Chris Ramsey and the organization’s top athlete safety official are under investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for failing to report allegations of sexual abuse, according to a video obtained by the Southern California News Group.
USA Water Polo board director Mike Graff’s acknowledgement in a video conference during the organization’s annual national assembly came three months after the U.S. Center for SafeSport launched an investigation into the failure of Ramsey and Christy Sicard, the national governing body’s senior director for Safe Sport, to report 2017 sexual abuse allegations to law enforcement or Child Protective Services as required by California law and the U.S. Center for SafeSport code.
“Yes, SafeSport is investigating Chris Ramsey and another staff member,” Graff said in the video conference. “Interestingly the complaint was filed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys who clearly have ulterior motives.
“We believe the complaint is without merit and it has to be dealt with by SafeSport. When there is a result we’ll take whatever action is required.”
Graff did not specify who the attorneys were he was referring to.
USA Water Polo did not respond to a request for comment.
USA Water Polo has been named in multiple lawsuits related to the alleged sexual abuse of minor aged girls by Orange County coach Bahram Hojreh.
The revelation of Graff’s confirmation comes as Ramsey and USA Water Polo, the Irvine-based national governing body, a tax exempt non-profit, face not only the SafeSport investigation but an ethics probe by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Ramsey and Graff have also come under fire from former Olympians, national team members, and USA Water Polo board members, coaches and officials who have criticized the organization’s handling of sexual abuse and other abuse cases and maintained Ramsey lied to a U.S. Senate subcommittee. More than 900 people have signed an online petition demanding Ramsey and Graff’s removal.
In a Feb. 2, 2018 letter to USA Water Polo, Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), the chairman and ranking member of a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating sexual abuse in American Olympics sports, asked, “What reporting protocols for child and sexual abuse allegations are currently in place to ensure that all reports receive fair, timely, and thorough review by all appropriate parties, including law enforcement?”
“In the event that USA Water Polo were to receive a report regarding alleged child or sexual abuse by one of its members, volunteers, employees, officers or directors, it would immediately notify the appropriate law enforcement authority and the U.S. Center for SafeSport,” Ramsey wrote in response to the senators.
But Ramsey and Sicard acknowledged in depositions last year that they did not report 2017 sexual abuse allegations against female players coached by Hojreh raised in the four reports to law enforcement or Child Protective Services. Instead they relied on the accounts of parents that law enforcement had been contacted.
At least four reports were filed with USA Water Polo between July 10 and 14, 2017 that outlined allegations or allege that players coached by Hojreh repeatedly sexually assaulted young girls from at least five teams during tournaments that summer by grabbing or trying to penetrate their vaginas..
While USA Water Polo officials forwarded reports and complaints to the U.S. Center for SafeSport they did not report the incidents to law enforcement or Child Protective Services even though under California law and SafeSport code they are mandated reporters of sexual abuse, according to depositions, emails, letters and sworn declarations obtained by the SCNG.
Hojreh continued coaching at International Water Polo, the Orange County club, and at Kennedy High School in La Palma until he was arrested in April 2018 on 22 charges ranging from sexual battery, lewd act with an individual under 14, and sexual penetration of a minor with a foreign object, according to arrest records and court filings.
He was not banned for life from the sport by the U.S. Center for SafeSport until Feb. 14, 2019, 10 months after his arrest and 20 months after USA Water Polo received the first allegations about Hojreh and IWP and sexual abuse.
Hojreh allegedly continued sexually abusing at least a dozen underage girls he coached between July 2017, when the first complaints about the coach and IWP were submitted to USA Water Polo, and his April 2018 arrest, according to police reports, court filing, and interviews.
Hojreh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.
While the U.S. Center for SafeSport took jurisdiction over the 2017 investigation, USA Water Polo officials, despite the severity of the allegations, took no steps to take action against Hojreh, place Hojreh and IWP under greater scrutiny or make any effort to identify the girls allegedly sexually assaulted or attempt or provide assistance to them. IWP trained at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos which was also the longtime home of the U.S. Olympic and national teams.
“Has — have – has your office or anyone at your direction undertaken to determine the names and identities of the girls who have made allegations against Mr. Hojreh?” Ramsey was asked during an August 31 deposition.
“We have not,” he replied.
“Has USA Water Polo done anything to attempt to assist those girls in any way relative to the allegations that they’re making against Mr. Hojreh?,” Ramsey was asked.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Ramsey said.
Source: Orange County Register