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Tkd Plus Special Investigative Report

The story sounds bizarre but USA taekwondo and two of its biggest stars have been rocked by sexual misconduct allegations.

For many years Lopez brothers were on the top of the taekwondo world, living a life few can dream about. Fame, Money, Recognition and all the other benefits that go with being sports legends!

A Hollywood story, they had everything!

Well it all that came crashing down when five women accused them of sexual misconduct.

The news not only stunned the World Taekwondo officials but also millions of taekwondo fans around the globe.

The legendary taekwondo family also is known as the "Royal Family" of US Taekwondo and the only family in the Olympic history to have four siblings in the same Olympic Games, 3 athletes and a coach, who all succeeded in winning medals.

The lawsuit filed by five former female athletes, including former Houston-area athletes Mandy Meloon, Gabriela Joslin and Kay Poe, also now includes allegations that the Lopez brothers, the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Taekwondo and SafeSport violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act and that’s a “serious crime” if proven!

 Steven Lopez, the most decorated athlete in the sport - 5 times Olympian with 2 Gold and a Bronze and 5 time World Champion - and his brother Jean who is the most decorated coach in American taekwondo history have their status downgraded from champions and idols to just a couple of common sexual predators that preyed and victimized young unsuspecting women who looked up to them as role models.

Of course given their status and their achievements in taekwondo most would like to give them “the benefit of the doubt”.

However it is not the matter of one woman accusing the brothers of these crimes but there are five women - Mandy Melon, Amber Means, Heidi Gilbert, Kay Poe, and Nina Zampitti – who claim to have been raped and victimized for several years.

And what did US Olympic Committee and US Taekwondo do about these claims when they were initially made against the Lopez brothers?  Not much!

To get a better idea of how everything started and how USA taekwondo and US Olympic Committee reacted to the complaints about sexual misconduct by Lopez brothers we have to go back in time.

About 13 years ago, in 2006, Jean Lopez was accused of sexual assault by two ex-national team female athletes for the first time but the allegations were not taken seriously by USA Taekwondo and they were dismissed as unfounded claims.

Nine years later in 2015, a second sexual misconduct claim was filed against the Lopez brothers.

This time USA Taekwondo was forced to take a closer look into the allegations.

Nonetheless, instead of suspending the Lopez brothers until they were cleared of the charges, US Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo decided to allow the pair to participate in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In 2017 after USA Taekwondo came under more pressure they decided to “pass the buck” and turn the matter over to the newly created “SafeSport” - an organization created by US Olympic Committee to keep athletes safe from such matters.

“SafeSport” found the claim credible enough to investigate and after examining the evidence Jean Lopez was banned from all activities in taekwondo for 13 months for sexual misconduct.

Ultimately, even though it is very unusual in rape cases but due to the accusers’ insistence, the names of the accusers were made public among them two times Bronze medalist in WT World Championships -1997 & 2005 - Mandy Melon.

 

 

Melon who had been dating Steven on and off for several years has said in her sworn testimony that in 2004 after having a physical altercation with Steven at his parents ‘home she went back to her apartment but Steven followed her, broke in through a window and raped her.

In her statement, she also claims that this was not the first incident with Steven as he had physically assaulted her on several occasions prior to raping her that night. 

Amy Means, another alleged rape victim, the story is even more bizarre and if true it brings to light a much darker side of the five times Olympian.

Amy Means alleges that she was drugged 3 times by Steven and he had sex with her while she was unconscious at least on one of those occasions.

In April of 2018 and after a more extensive investigation by “SafeSport”, Jean Lopez was banned for life for Sexual Misconduct.

His brother Steven was put in the “SafeSport” database of disciplinary records under "interim measure restriction" but eventually moved to the list of athletes banned for life in September of 2018.

According to a report published by USA Today news “SafeSport” at that time issued a statement saying: "This matter concerns a decade long pattern of sexual misconduct by an older athlete /coach abusing his power to groom, manipulate and ultimately sexually abuse younger female athletes."

Moreover the statement added "Given the number of incidents reported over a span of several years and by multiple reporting parties, most of whom have no reasonable motive to fabricate an allegation -much less multiple distinct incidents – of misconduct, the totality of the circumstances clearly shows the current pattern of behavior on the part of Jean."

However a few months later everything changed.

In December of 2018 “SafeSport” issued another statement going completely against its previous decision!

In short, the statement said that an arbitrator had found insufficient evidence and has reinstated Steven Lopez and has lifted his lifetime ban.

The same happened in the case against Jean Lopez a month later in January of 2019 and his lifetime ban which had changed to “temporary restriction” a month earlier was also lifted.

So why this sudden turn of events?

It was cited by Safe Sport "absence of the reporting party (the women who claimed sexual abuse) as a reason for the decision to overturn the sanction in Jean’s case.

When the question was put to Stephen Estey, attorney for Gilbert, Poe and Zampetti - three of the women accusing the Lopez brothers, about why the women did not accept SafeSport invitation to participate in the arbitrary hearing he said “they were already going to be deposed as part of a civil lawsuit against the Lopez brothers, USOC, USA Taekwondo and SafeSport, and I didn't want them traumatized by having to testify multiple times.”

The lifting of the ban becomes even more doubtful when the reason given by SafeSport is against its own code that does not require the "reporting parties" to participate in the arbitrary hearing in person!

Now all five women have filed a lawsuit against the Lopez brothers, US Olympic Committee, USA Taekwondo and SafeSport for sex trafficking operation, claiming that USOC and USA Taekwondo knew Lopez brothers were sexual predators yet continued to send young women with them to camps and competitions all over the world.

“The women had given SafeSport verbal accounts of their allegations against Jean Lopez and offered to provide written declarations that could be used in the arbitrary hearing. I also offered SafeSport depose the women as part of the lawsuit and use that in the hearing” Stephen Estey said.

"They chose not to take me upon that offer and I don’t want to re-traumatize rape victims."

However, in Steven’s case, the explanation for the lifting of the lifelong ban by “SafeSport” sounds even more doubtful.

In his decision the arbitrator, Jeff Kaplan, found that “the Center has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Lopez violated the SafeSport code by grooming NZ (Nina Zampetti), touching her vaginal area and breasts and receiving oral sex from her in 2000.”

So Mr. Jeff Kaplan thinks touching vaginal area and breasts and receiving oral sex from a 14 year old girl by a 22 year old man is not a violation of any moral codes!?

Zampetti did not testify at the hearing. Steven Estey, her attorney, said he provided her declaration to the center.

“I declined to be questioned by SafeSport because I don’t believe they are here to help us,” Zampetti said via text message with USA TODAY Sports. “They are only trying to help themselves. If I would have answered those questions I believe they still would have lifted the ban. I will just give my statement in real court when the day comes.”

When Zampetti was 14, she told USA TODAY Sports that she was at the Lopez house when Steven Lopez asked her to take off her shirt and touched her breast. A short time later, he put his penis in her mouth and ejaculated.

Zampetti said she immediately told Steven Lopez’s sister, Diana, as well as another taekwondo athlete. She also told her sister, Connie, who corroborated Nina Zampetti’s account to both USA TODAY Sports and SafeSport.

The decision to lift the ban on Steven Lopez came after “SafeSport” earlier statement.

“She has no discernible motive to fabricate a claim against Steven,” according to the SafeSport in their earlier finding, “and, in fact, due to the close relationship between her family and the Lopez’s, her decision to reveal what occurred has been very difficult for her and has the potential to negatively impact long-standing personal and familial relationships.”

Steven Lopez denied engaging in any sexual activity with Zampetti while she was a minor and he was an adult.

Diana Lopez testified on behalf of her brother during the hearing, denying that Zampetti told her about an alleged sexual encounter with Steven.

So now the case goes to a civil court for punitive damages.

And what about SafeSport’s track record: It has issued 365 decisions since it opened in March 2017. Eleven have gone to arbitration. Three have been overturned. The last two involves the Lopez brothers.

Nevertheless, Zampetti’s attorney is not ready to throw in the towel yet: “I’m not deterred. I’m going to be going forward on the civil side, and the truth is going to come out on the civil side.”