Attorneys with the Columbia, South Carolina-based Strom Law firm filed three additional lawsuits this week in federal court linked to the Cheer Incorporated sex abuse scandal. All three of the lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Greenville, S.C. – the location of the initial federal complaint in this case.
According to attorneys with the firm, the new lawsuits provide further details on how the behemoths of the cheerleading industry “put corporate profits ahead of their responsibility to protect teenage athletes whose coaches would routinely ply them with alcohol and illicit drugs before sexually abusing them.”
The new suits list three new victims – a John Doe and two Jane Does – as well as multiple new defendants. Each lawsuit is linked to the now-defunct Rockstar Cheer gym in Greenville, S.C.
Rockstar became the epicenter of the Cheer Incorporated scandal two months ago when its late owner and founder, Scott Foster, died by suicide. The day after Foster’s death hit the news, I reported that the 49-year-old coach was staring down “a multi-jurisdictional investigation into (among other things) allegations of sexual misconduct with underage girls.”
We quickly learned it wasn’t just girls. And it wasn’t just Foster. And most importantly … it wasn’t just Rockstar.
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This ongoing investigation is being led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s special investigations unit (HSI). As of this writing, no criminal charges have been filed in connection with the case.
As I have previously reported, the current crop of lawsuits is just the beginning of the legal armageddon associated with this national scandal – with Strom attorneys planning additional federal pleadings in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Maryland. More lawsuits are also planned for Tennessee, the site of a massive filing submitted late last month. Other firms representing additional victims of ‘Cheer Incorporated’ are planning to file lawsuits on their behalf in state and federal court, sources familiar with those actions have told this news outlet.
While it remains to be seen which defendants those lawsuits will target, the Strom Law cases have drawn a bead on several iconic institutions within the American cheerleading industry. All of the Strom lawsuits – including the three new actions submitted this week – list as defendants multiple corporate affiliations of Varsity, the Memphis-based company that’s made billions of dollars selling cheerleading apparel and organizing cheerleading and dance camps/ competitions across the country.
They also name Jeff Webb, Varsity’s founder and former owner, along with two companies which purchased ownership interests in Varsity within the last decade – Charlesbank Capital Partners and Bain Capital, the Boston-based investment firm co-founded by U.S. senator Mitt Romney.
Bain purchased Varsity for nearly $3 billion in 2018, but Charlesbank retained an ownership interest in the company. In fact, that interest was expressly cited in one of the new complaints filed this week.
“When it sold to Bain Capital in 2018, rather than walk away from the enterprise, Charlesbank made the conscious business decision to reinvest and retain an ownership interest in the Varsity Defendants in order to continue reaping the financial benefits of Varsity’s enterprise with the Rockstar Defendants,” the lawsuit alleged.
The new lawsuits also named the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF) the USA Federation of Sport Cheering (a.k.a. USA Cheer) – two nonprofit entities which purportedly regulate competitive cheerleading and protect cheer athletes. As our readers are well aware, though, there was precious little in the way of protection provided.
In fact, the latest edition of FITSNews’ Cheer Incorporated podcast (Apple, Spotify) deals specifically with how loopholes and lax enforcement on the part of these entities is alleged to have facilitated the epidemic of abuse within competitive cheer – leading to many of the horror stories we are are now hearing from victims and survivors of this still-unfolding saga.
“With every new victim, it becomes clearer that Varsity Spirit, Bain Capital and the USASF had to know what was happening at these gyms and competitions across the country,” Strom attorney Bakari Sellers said in a statement. “They knew, and yet, as long as the checks kept coming in, they didn’t care.”
Apparently some of the parents pushing their children to participate in this industry didn’t care, either. Why not? Because some of them were allegedly participating in similar sexual debauchery with underage victims.
According to one of the new lawsuits – filed on behalf of Jane Doe 9 – the victim recalled “extensive fraternization between cheer parents, coaches and minor athletes” at various competitions held across the country.
“On numerous occasions, (Doe) became intoxicated at cheer competitions with adult coaches and parents of other athletes,” the lawsuit alleged.
Doe was fourteen years old at the time these alleged “fraternizations” began.
The Jane Doe 9 lawsuit specifically alleged that at the Worlds cheer competition in Florida, “coaches and athletes were often assigned to stay in the same hotel rooms,” and that a so-called “after-party” held at the conclusion of these competitions “was an event known for excessive alcohol and illicit drug use, sexual debauchery and fraternization between adult coaches and underage athletes.”
According to Doe, she was “first introduced to illicit drugs by coaches, athletes and parents of Rockstar (Cheer)” and eventually “became dependent on drugs and alcohol during her time cheering for Rockstar.”
The lawsuits filed thus far in this case have identified Foster and other Rockstar coaches as having allegedly supplied underage athletes with drugs and alcohol. In fact, one of the new filings – submitted on behalf of Jane Doe 8 – specifically alleged that she and other underage athletes were provided “alcohol and marijuana” by defendants Traevon Black, Josh Guyton and by “others” at the gym.
And not just alcohol and marijuana …
On one occasion, Doe alleged that Black drove an underage cheer athlete to Piedmont, S.C. “to purchase powder cocaine” which was then provided for her use and use by another underage athlete.
Black and Guyton were both named as defendants in the amended version of the first South Carolina federal lawsuit filed in connection with this case. Readers will recall cheer coach Kenny Feeley – who was also named in the first amended South Carolina lawsuit – was accused of giving another underage Rockstar cheer victim “alcohol and marijuana” prior to allegedly raping her.
Feeley has denied all of these allegations.
As of this writing, none of the lawsuits have publicly identified any of the cheer parents alleged to have participated in the culture of “fraternization” – although this could be a major component of this story moving forward, I am told.
Meanwhile, the network of coaches allegedly preying on underage victims continues to expand.
Another of the new lawsuits – filed on behalf of John Doe 3 – alleged that a new defendant, Jarred Carruba, sent “sexually explicit messages and photos via Snapchat” to his alleged victim, who was fifteen years old at the time. Additionally, Carruba “would often make comments about these messages to (Doe) at the gym in front of other athletes and coaches,” according to the suit.
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Carruba (above) wasn’t the only one accused of improper conduct with this particular survivor.
According to the lawsuit, Scott Foster gave “alcohol and cigarettes” to this John Doe while they were at Disney World in 2015 for a cheer competition. Foster also allegedly “provided cocaine” to Doe on “at least one occasion,” the suit alleged.
“Every new survivor comes with a new horror story,” attorney Jessica Fickling said. “In addition to the alcohol, drugs and abuse, the common link is that this wasn’t a secret to the people in charge. The fact that no one in authority took any action to protect these children is inexcusable.”
“How many complaints did the people at Varsity Spirit, Bain Capital and the USASF need to get before they changed their approach?” attorney Alexanda Benevento added. “How many children need to be abused before you take action? Any number is too many when you consider that the victims – these children – will carry the scars of this trauma for the rest of their lives.”
Once again, anyone willing to share information is encouraged to reach out to our director of research (and resident cheer mom) Jenn Wood at [email protected] or use our tip line. However you decide to contact us, this news outlet honors requests for anonymity regarding submissions – and as I have previously proven, I will go to jail before I break confidentiality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has many hats – including that Minnesota Twins’ lid pictured above.
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