Parents want answers about gym coach arrested on child porn charges

Renee sat her wide-eyed, trusting 6-year-old daughter down Saturday, choking back tears.

“Do you know Coach Carl?” Renee asked. “Do you like him?”

“Yes,” the 6-year-old gymnast responded.

“He did bad things with guns, and he did bad things with kids,” Renee said. “You can’t go back there any more.”

The child cried.

Carl Lechner, or Coach Carl as the children at CATS Gymnastics in Jupiter knew him, was arrested Friday after detectives uncovered at least seven child pornography files on his home computer in Lauderdale Lakes. Lechner, 66, also spent three years in state prison in North Carolina on drug charges almost 30 years ago, according to a police report.

Lechner can’t own a gun as an ex-convict, but when police searched his home, they found three.

Renee, a Jupiter resident who declined to give her last name, has been taking her daughter to CATS Gymnastics for more than two years.

“If you have any prior felony arrests, why would you let them around children?” she said.

Suzanna Mastropa, a Tequesta resident whose granddaughter was a member at CATS Gymnasium until the news broke, was sickened.

“How do we sit our granddaughter down and ask her ‘Did this man ever touch you?’” Mastropa said.

Lechner admitted to downloading the child pornography and downloading software to erase any trace, according to the police report.

Detectives tracked down Lechner using data provided to them by the Child Rescue Coalition, a nonprofit based in Boca Raton that built its own software used to scan computers around the world for child porn downloads.

“If we find someone downloading child pornography that works in an occupation around children, we make that a priority to investigate,” said Broward Assistant State Attorney Dennis Nicewander, adding that investigators have to “triage” to decide which cases to hunt down.

Nicewander has prosecuted sex crimes against children for 25 years, most often internet crimes against children. He will prosecute Lechner’s case.

That’s not much of a consolation to parents at CATS Gymnastics, who are frantic, concerned if Lechner has shared photos of their children on peer-to-peer file sharing networks, which detectives found that Lechner used to download and send child pornography.

“We contacted detectives and if our children’s pictures are out there, we will hold that gym responsible,” Renee said.

Owner of CATS Gymnastics Terry Howison said he knew of Lechner’s past felony convictions, but that Lechner had glowing reviews from a former employer.

Howison told parents in an email, however, that the gym was not aware of the prior conviction, which angered many parents.

“We want you all to know that we are equally as shocked, devastated and feel terribly betrayed by the information released late this afternoon about Coach Carl,” Howison and another manager identified only as “Miss Carole” wrote in an email obtained by the Post from parents. “Also, we were not aware of any prior drug convictions, 30 years ago.”

“They knew about him and allowed him to work with our children,” Mastropa said. “Why would you ever risk putting children in harm’s way? And why would you not tell us?”

Up to 90 percent of offenders who commit internet crimes against children also commit “hands-on” crimes, or sexual abuse, according to data collected by the CRC.

Howison assured parents Sunday night that no suspicious acts happened at the gym.

“Every time I think about how this man had girls jump on his neck or how he would catch them while spotting, it makes me sick,” Mastropa said.

Source: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/crime-law/parents-want-answers-about-gym-coach-arrested-on-c/nnCK6/