A former student at Concordia University Chicago filed an updated civil lawsuit Thursday against the former head baseball coach and the school, a move that comes two months after the coach was convicted of criminal sexual assault.
The new complaint accuses the university of negligence and failing to protect its student-athletes.
Former Concordia head baseball coach Spiro Lempesis was found guilty at a December bench trial of sexually assaulting a teen who later became one of his players at the River Forest university. That player is the plaintiff in the civil case.
The one-time coach, Spiro Lempesis, was convicted of one count of criminal sexual assault of a victim between the ages of 13 and 17 and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim between the ages of 13 and 18. Lempesis was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Now lawyers for Lempesis and Concordia are bracing for battle in the civil case, which broadens the allegations and includes a gray area of conduct between the coach and player. The lawsuit by former Concordia pitcher Anthony Collaro claims Lempesis coerced him into making sex videos in exchange for favorable treatment, a dent in money he owed for baseball equipment and with promises the coach would contact major- and minor-league scouts to help him get drafted.
The suit claims Concordia failed to provide for the care and safety of Collaro, failed to properly investigate misconduct and did not follow procedures designed to protect student-athletes from predatory coaches. The lawsuit also alleges the university never should have hired Lempesis and failed to perform an adequate background check.
Collaro’s claims come as universities nationwide face increasing scrutiny and criticism for the way administrators and athletic departments handle sexual abuse claims by athletes. Concordia competes at the Division III level for athletics.
Collaro’s lawyers say the university tried to cover up the matter, afraid of the ramifications for recruiting and fundraising.
“I think there was a concerted effort to sweep this under the rug,” said Gina DeBoni, one of Collaro’s lawyers. “At the end of the day, I think this was nothing more than damage control.”
The lawsuit claims the coach coerced Collaro into sex acts on 20 to 30 occasions, many of which were videotaped, in Lempesis’ office between June 2008 and July 2009.
Collaro, 28, is suing Lempesis and Concordia for damages in Cook County Circuit Court, also alleging the former coach committed sexual battery and that Lempesis and the university were in breach of fiduciary duty. Collaro is seeking at least $50,000.
But Lempesis’ lawyer argues his client never abused Collaro, and the civil lawsuit is a ploy by the former player to collect money for consensual sexual activity.
“At no time did anything inappropriate happen when he was a minor,” said Blake Horwitz, Lempesis’ lawyer. He said Collaro fabricated part of his story for financial gain.
Horwitz also said Concordia acted appropriately, launching an internal investigation into Lempesis’ behavior and firing the coach. Lempesis was fired in September 2010.
During a brief hearing Thursday at the Daley Center before the newly updated lawsuit was filed, a lawyer for Concordia said the plaintiff “has yet to assert a claim that is viable.”
A Concordia spokesman said the school does not comment on pending litigation.
Collaro’s lawyers contend the former player suffered “severe and permanent emotional distress” as well as damage to his baseball career because of the sexual contact. The lawsuit says Lempesis used his position of trust to “manipulate and prey” on the player.
Collaro first met Lempesis in 2000 at a baseball camp when Collaro was 10 years old. Later, when Collaro was in high school, he took private pitching lessons from Lempesis, and afterward the coach would take him to eat at McDonald’s or Gene and Jude’s in River Grove. It was during that time, according to Collaro’s statement to River Forest police, that Lempesis fondled Collaro’s genitals as he had the player try on a pair of sliding shorts. After another session, according to the River Forest police report, Lempesis showered with Collaro and groped him when the two were naked.
Collaro later accepted an academic scholarship to play baseball for Lempesis at Concordia. He began college in 2007. While Collaro was a pitcher on the team in 2008 and 2009, Lempesis told him he could reduce his debt for baseball equipment if Collaro agreed to engage in sex acts on video. Lempesis had players pay him personally for gear, according to the lawsuit. Collaro told police he performed sex acts on film on multiple occasions.
Lempesis later asked Collaro to perform a sexual act, but he refused and his playing time was reduced, according to the lawsuit.
During the criminal trial, Jeffrey Hynes, vice president for student life and intercollegiate athletics and dean of students at Concordia, testified that he heard about allegations against Lempesis from an assistant coach, then spoke to Collaro. Hynes testified that Collaro told him he was compensated for sexual acts with Lempesis, and that later he fired Lempesis for the conduct.
In answers to questions from the prosecutor, Hynes agreed the situation with Lempesis could be damaging to Concordia’s reputation and the baseball program’s recruiting and fundraising. The university later launched an internal investigation, hiring former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to look into Lempesis’ conduct with other athletes.
At sentencing in the criminal case, Lempesis asked Collaro for forgiveness “for the things that happened at Concordia. I was the head coach. It was wrong. I never should have done that or allowed that to happen.”
But Lempesis maintained his innocence on the assault charges.
“I never, ever touched him, as he says I did, as a minor,” Lempesis said, according to a court transcript. “That never happened. I am 100 percent innocent of that.”
Horwitz, in a phone interview this week, said Lempesis admits to “acting inappropriately as coach” but that he “engaged in consensual sexual relations.” Horwitz said testimony from the criminal trial supports that view.
Horwitz said Collaro couldn’t recall the name of the therapists he saw after the incidents with Lempesis, calling into question whether he really had repressed memories about sexual encounters.
During his victim impact statement at sentencing, Collaro said anxiety and depression have plagued his life because of Lempesis’ actions, but he was pleased to see his former coach held accountable for his actions.
“I never want him to be able to hurt another young boy or man again,” Collaro said. “It’s incomprehensible what he did and put me through. … Now he can see that he’s destroyed my life firsthand, but I am taking it back today. All the hurt, pain and sorrow he has caused me starts to go away today.”