Public Safety

Class action suit filed against former Barnstormers basketball coach, program

Suit claims Barnstormers negligent in duty to protect youth players

IOWA CITY — A lawsuit seeking class-action status has been filed against former youth basketball coach Greg Stephen, who pleaded guilty last month to charges related to videotaping naked teen players and posing as teen girls to persuade them to send him explicit images.

The plaintiff, identified only as John Doe, and others “similarly situated” also are suing Barnstormers Basketball and the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States. The suit, filed Friday in Johnson County District Court, accuses Stephen of intruding on the players’ privacy and states the Barnstormers and the AAU were negligent in their duties to protect “vulnerable youth athletes from the despicable conduct” of Stephen.

The suit also claims the Barnstormers program was negligent in its hiring, retention and supervision of Stephen, 42, of Monticello. The program failed to implement or enforce procedures, policies or protocols to oversee Stephen’s “nearly constant interaction” with the youth players, even though Barnstormers officials knew, or should have known, that Stephen had access to the teens’ hotels rooms and sometimes shared a room and bed with the youths, the suit contends.

“Preventing harm to children should be the paramount goal of youth sports groups,” Des Moines lawyer Guy Cook, who is representing the plaintiff, said in a statement Monday.

The lawsuit is about “obtaining justice” for the “hundreds” of youth athletes victimized by Stephen and the “failure” of the Barnstormers and AAU to protect these “vulnerable youth athletes,” Cook said.

Jamie Johnson, Barnstomers co-founder and executive director, said Monday he had not received a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment on the allegations.

“We had no knowledge of anything related to the allegations until the evidence was discovered by a third party,” Johnson said in a statement to The Gazette. “At that time, the club took immediate action to remove Mr. Stephen from any involvement with the club, severing all ties.”

Stephen was ousted from the Barnstormers after the criminal investigation became public in February. He was arrested in March.

The unnamed victims in the suit include all Barnstormers players who traveled with the team from 2005 to the present and stayed in hotel rooms that were reserved by or accessible by Stephen, or who shared rooms with him.

The exact number in the class is unknown, according to the suit, but could be over 400.

John Doe is identified in the suit as playing on several Barnstormers teams from March 2014 through July 2016 and attended a basketball tournament in Las Vegas in 2016. He stayed in a hotel room for seven nights with four or five other members of the team, where he claims Stephen secretly recorded them, including when they were dressing and showering.

John Doe’s father was told by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Iowa that his son was one of Stephen’s victims, according to the suit.

Stephen was responsible for booking hotel rooms for players when they traveled out of state for games and tournaments, according to the suit. He regularly arrived at the hotel rooms early, which gave him time to place hidden cameras in the bathrooms, which were focused on the shower and toilet areas, according to testimony in the criminal case.

None of the teens were aware they were being recorded, according to Stephen’s plea agreement.

Stephen pleaded guilty last month in U.S. District Court to five counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count each of possession of child pornography and transportation of child pornography.

Stephen, in the plea, admitted to engaging in sexually explicit conduct to produce videos with five former basketball players under the age of 18.

According to the plea, Stephen persuaded four of the boys to provide explicit images or videos but had no physical contact with them. He did have physical contact with another victim, who traveled to tournaments and games with Stephen on several occasions and went to Stephen’s cabin in Delhi.

Authorities recovered files of teen girls engaged in sexually explicit conduct, which Stephen used to set up Facebook and Snapchat profiles to contact teen boys, according to the plea.

Once contact was made, Stephen used the female personas to entice the boys into providing him with sexually explicit images.

During the investigation, authorities found the videos on a USB device taken from Stephen’s hidden camera that he used to record several naked players in a hotel room in Lombard, Ill., and Ankeny. They also recovered covert recording devices from his Monticello and Delhi homes.

The plea shows Stephen had access to minors ages 9 to 17 as far back as 2008 through basketball programs of Barnstormers, Mavericks and other teams.

Stephen faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years and possibly up to 180 years in federal prison if the judge decides to run the sentences consecutively.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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