Saying that an AAU basketball coach in Iowa "exploited, manipulated and abused children for almost two decades," a judge sentenced him to 180 years in prison Thursday. Greg Stephen, 43, had pleaded guilty to multiple counts related to child pornography and sexual exploitation of minors, after prosecutors accused him of sexually exploiting at least 440 boys over a period of several years.
Stephen was a highly influential figure in the lives of the children as he ran the Iowa Barnstormers, an elite youth program that helped many get college athletic scholarships, including at Division I schools such as Iowa, Northern Iowa and Wisconsin. Most of the boys were tricked by Stephen into sending him sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves, as he posed as a girl who promised to reciprocate, but he was also accused of touching some of his players.
In addition, Stephen surreptitiously filmed and photographed boys while they disrobed and slept in hotels or at two residences he used. After his former brother-in-law found one of the hidden recording devices while doing some remodeling work for Stephen last year, he alerted police, who discovered a hard drive belonging to the coach that had thousands of images and videos on it, as well as file folders bearing the names of more than 400 boys.
"My son would have followed you anywhere; he thought you held the keys to the basketball kingdom," a mother of one of the boys said to Stephen as she testified Thursday (via the Des Moines Register). "You forced evil on the goodness and sweetness that is my son."
In handing down the sentence, which was the maximum possible and had been requested by federal prosecutors, U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams said, "The harm the defendant caused to the children is incalculable and profound."
Stephen's lawyers had sought a 20-year term, arguing (via the AP) that he no longer represented a threat to the community, in part because he had "no personality disorders apart from voyeurism." Prosecutors countered by describing Stephen as a "hands-on" pedophile who admitted to touching the genitalia of 13 victims, usually while they slept.
Stephen co-founded the Iowa Barnstormers in 2005, and it gained an Adidas sponsorship as it grew into a program that enrolled children, including girls, from the fourth grade through high school. Stephen apologized in court and said (via the AP) that his biggest regret was that his accomplishments as a coach were now tarnished, a comment that drew a rebuke from Williams, who said his biggest regret should be the damage he caused to the children and their parents.
Prosecutors asserted last month that Stephen built the program to provide himself with a "steady, replenishing stream of victims," as the families of his victims "sought out" his coaching services, "paid for his expertise and connections, and entrusted him with the safety and futures of their sons."
A class-action lawsuit was filed in November against Stephen, the Barnstormers and the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union). On Thursday, Stephen's legal team indicated it plans to appeal his conviction and sentence, in part because of how key evidence was obtained by way of his former brother-in-law's actions.
Declaring that the "sentence imposed today reflects the enormity of his crimes," U.S. Attorney Marc Krickbaum said (via KCCI), "He had power over these kids, and he exploited that power."
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