Female trainers claim sexual assault by assistant

Updated: March 2, 2005, 1:13 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- The University of Colorado football recruiting scandal was shoved back into the spotlight Tuesday by a secret grand jury report laced with inflammatory allegations about sexual assaults, slush funds and marijuana enticements for blue chip athletes.

New details of the findings were leaked to the media this week, reviving calls for the grand jury report to be officially made public and renewing questions about why the investigation resulted with a single indictment against a low-level university employee.

Among the newly disclosed allegations: Two female trainers said they were sexually assaulted by an assistant football coach; one of the women was "coerced to perform sexual favors for players and recruits repeatedly" over two years; and thousands of dollars from coach Gary Barnett's football camp went into a "slush fund" stashed in 16 or 17 cash boxes and made available to Barnett and other athletics department officials.

The report concurred with an independent commission's finding last year that players arranged sex, alcohol and marijuana for recruits, without the permission of coaches.

The latest details were first reported by KUSA-TV and The Denver Post. A source who has seen the report confirmed the contents to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

University officials asked Denver District Judge Jeff Bayless for permission to respond publicly to the newly disclosed allegations. Bayless, who oversaw the grand jury, last year ordered the report kept secret and prohibited all parties from discussing its contents. The judge late Tuesday granted the university's request.

CU President Betsy Hoffman said the school fully cooperated with the grand jury and has launched financial audits of Barnett's football camp and the university's fund raising arm, the CU Foundation, even though both are independent organizations.

She added the school does not tolerate sexual harassment and has made changes in athletics. Hoffman added the leak "undermines" the process and said the school is limited in how it can respond.

"The danger of any grand jury report is that it both accuses and condemns its targets with one-sided, unchallenged and misleading allegations based on secret evidence and testimony," Hoffman said in a statement. "The party investigated has no opportunity to respond to allegations, provide evidence or even to know the evidence against it."

Barnett declined comment, citing the judge's order.

Dave Plati, a spokesman for the athletics department, said the assistant coach who was accused of assault was no longer at the school but declined to identify him. He said the allegation "was not a surprise to us when it became public knowledge," but he declined to say how long officials were aware of it.

The grand jury began its investigation in May after allegations that the football program used sex, strippers and alcohol as a recruiting tool and that nine women since 1997 had been assaulted by players or recruits. Three women later sued the university, saying they were raped during or after a December 2001 off-campus party for football players and recruits; one has since dropped her lawsuit.

The grand jury wrapped up its work in August, indicting former recruiting assistant Nathan Maxcey on charges of soliciting a prostitute and misusing a university cell phone. Maxcey has not yet entered a plea.

No one else was indicted. A parallel investigation by then-Attorney General Ken Salazar into the alleged assaults also resulted in no charges, with prosecutors citing concerns about evidence and the reluctance of the women to go forward with the cases.

Dan Hopkins, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Owens, said the governor will consult with Attorney General John Suthers about whether the investigation of the football program should be reopened.

Owens will not second-guess Salazar's investigation in light of the new revelations, Hopkins said.

State Sen. Peter Groff, who last year called on the Legislature to investigate the football program through a panel with subpoena powers, also urged that the grand jury report be released.

"The public has a right to know what goes on in the grand jury," said Groff, D-Denver.

Groff said this week's disclosures raised serious questions about the investigation, and that a second panel might be able to reconsider some of the evidence. He said it's too late for the Legislature to revisit the issue this year.

When he ordered the grand jury report sealed last year, Bayless cited state legal precedents that allowed the document to be made public only if no indictments had been issued.

Salazar asked Bayless to release the report; the university Board of Regents argued against it. Salazar appealed Bayless' ruling, an appeal that is still pending.

Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor, cautioned that grand jury testimony provides just one piece of the picture.

"It's very one-sided. It is the prosecution getting to put on witnesses, having them give testimony without any type of cross-examination," said Steinhauser, a professor at the University of Denver law school.

Another consideration is the lawsuits by the two women, who allege the school violated federal Title IX requirements by fostering an environment hostile to women.

"You may have concerns about wanting to make sure both sides are going to be able to get a fair trial," Steinhauser said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press