Two-year sentence for B.C. gymnastics coach who filmed students using toilet

A gymnastics coach who secretly filmed his young athletes using the toilet has received a two-year sentence for making and possessing child pornography.

Angelo Despotas, 48, betrayed the trust of the students he was supposed to be teaching, guiding and inspiring, provincial court Judge Jim Threlfall told a sentencing hearing in Kelowna, B.C.

“The damage done to the victims is incalculable,” Threlfall said.

“Many of the victims had trained with him for years.”

Despotas earlier pleaded guilty to the charges and received two consecutive sentences, of 14 months for making child pornography and 10 months for possessing it.

Before he was sentenced, Despotas turned to face the courtroom gallery, where many of his former students were sitting, to apologize for his actions.

“The crimes I committed were a gross intrusion and violation of personal privacy,” he said Monday. “My actions were inexcusable. I wish to express sincere regret and apologize to all those I’ve hurt and embarrassed.”

Many spectators wept as one of his young victims read a victim impact statement that described the profound distress she experienced since learning she’d been filmed for sexual purposes by a man she considered a mentor.

“He was looking to exploit me in ways I could not imagine,” said the victim, who has given up gymnastics. “Because of him, that whole part of my life feels dirty and uncomfortable.”

In another impact statement, a parent said her daughter, a once-promising gymnast, had attempted suicide.

“In her mind, her whole life was over,” the parent said.

Another parent told Despotas: “The pain you caused is more than a video. It’s a betrayal (with) nightmares, tears, and long days of sadness. … You left your scar on our family.”

Court heard Despotas, a short, slight man, was a highly regarded gymnastics coach with 20 years’ experience when he moved to Kelowna in 2002. Students came from as far away as Mexico and Germany to train under him.

But he came to police attention after the breakup of a child pornography ring in Ontario in 2012. Some of the files were eventually traced to Despotas, and Kelowna police began investigating him in 2015.

They found videos he’d made using a small camera placed in a trash bin 1.5 metres from a toilet in a female washroom at a gymnastics facility. The video shows the genitalia of girls as young as 12.

Police also found 2,040 images of child pornography, not involving his students, on a laptop he owned. Threlfall said the images were “beyond disturbing.”

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