March 9 (Reuters) - A longtime U.S. figure skating coach who trained Tara Lipinski to an Olympic gold medal in 1998 has been suspended and will be investigated by an organization formed to prevent sexual abuse of athletes, the sport's governing body said on Friday.
Richard Callaghan, 72, is barred from any figure skating activities sanctioned by the sports group or the U.S. Olympic Committee pending the outcome of an inquiry by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent watchdog group, U.S Figure Skating said in a statement.
"U.S. Figure Skating suspended the membership of Richard Callaghan on March 6, 2018, in compliance with the policies and procedures of the U.S. Center for SafeSport," the organization said.
SafeSport was formed last year to examine complaints of sexual abuse and other mistreatment of athletes reported to the group. It was designated by Congress last month to develop policies and procedures to protect amateur athletes from harm.
SafeSport on its website confirmed that it has opened an investigation into Callaghan, but a spokeswoman said the organization does not comment on the specifics of its cases.
USA Today, citing two unnamed sources with knowledge of the situation, reported Callaghan's suspension stemmed from decades-old allegations recently brought to SafeSport's attention by the coach's alleged victim, Craig Maurizi.
Maurizi could not be reached by Reuters for comment. He was quoted by the newspaper as saying: “I don’t want to discuss any actions that I may or may not have taken in filing a grievance with SafeSport at this time.”
U.S. Figure Skating also did not comment directly on the nature of the allegations under review or the identity of the alleged accuser.
But the skating organization acknowledged in a statement that it had looked into a grievance filed by Maurizi back in 1999 and took no action on that case because the alleged wrongdoing had occurred 14 years earlier.
U.S. Figure Skating said it had fielded no other reports of sexual abuse by Callaghan before then or any complaint of any alleged misconduct by him since.
Callaghan could not be reached for comment on Friday. When allegations first surfaced in 1999 he "vehemently denied" them, The New York Times reported at the time.
His lawyer, Dean Groulx, told Reuters by phone that his client was "shocked" to hear of the suspension.
"Richard did not receive prior notice before SafeSport released that information to the public," Groulx said. "We are looking into whether Richard's fundamental right to due process has been violated."
Groulx said he was contacting SafeSport to determine if its investigation centers around the Maurizi allegations, in which he said his client was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The suspension of Callaghan marked the latest in a torrent of sexual abuse allegations that have roiled the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for months.
Much of the scandal has centered on former U.S. Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty last year to molesting numerous female athletes under the guise of medical treatment for 20 years and received multiple prison sentences, of up to 175 years.
Authorities say Nassar victimized more than 260 women and girls, including several Olympic gold medalists.
The case prompted the entire board of directors at USA Gymnastics to resign, along with the president and athletic director at Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked.
Athletes have accused USOC officials of failing to act promptly on complaints of sexual abuse and fostering a culture of silence. (Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler)