Eight years ago, renowned USC geneticist William French Anderson, an avid martial arts practitioner, sought out expert karate teacher Paul Godshaw for private instruction, and declared his goal: winning a gold medal at the Amateur Athletic Union national tournament.
The scientist, then nearing 60, went to Godshaw's Mission Viejo training facility once a month for more than a year. Two or three times, he brought along a shy girl of about 10 -- whom he said he was training at his San Marino home -- for professional instruction.
The karate instructor found Anderson "a tremendous athlete" and the girl "rather timid." But at the 1998 AAU national tournament in Orlando, Fla., both the scientist and the girl won gold medals in their age categories.
Their success reflected many of the personal characteristics for which Anderson, who has been called "the father of gene therapy," is known -- the single-minded pursuit of goals, a preoccupation with martial arts and personal safety, and a history of assisting what he has called "surrogate children."
However, Anderson's relationship with the girl, now a 17-year-old high school senior, is no longer one of mentor and protege, but of accused and accuser.
Anderson has been charged with sexually molesting the girl, the daughter of a colleague at USC's Gene Therapy Laboratories, from when she was 10 to when she was 14. He faces one charge of continuous sex abuse on a child and five counts of lewd acts upon a child, charges that could imprison him for the rest of his life.
Anderson has pleaded not guilty; a date for a preliminary hearing in the case is to be set next month. He has declined The Times' requests for interviews, and his defense attorney has not returned calls for comment.
In a recent e-mail to friends at the university, a copy of which The Times obtained, Anderson wrote: "It is a nightmare being falsely accused. I have not done the things I am charged with."
Anderson's closeness to the girl and her parents, especially her mother, was apparent to others.
The girl's mother is "an incredibly gifted scientist" at USC's Gene Therapy Laboratories -- which Anderson started in 1992 -- and Anderson's most trusted assistant, said Al MacKrell, a biology professor at Bradley University in Illinois who was the lab's first post-doctoral researcher.
"She was the one person he felt he could entrust with important projects," MacKrell said.
At age 13, the woman's daughter took up soccer. Over the next three years, Tom Ashby, former girls' soccer coach at the Los Angeles-area high school the girl attends, watched her develop into a star who helped her team win a California Interscholastic Federation championship.
Anderson, known to many as French, consistently attended soccer practices, usually showing up for the last hour and then driving the girl to her home nearby, Ashby said. "It's something you notice when it's not a parent," he said. "I'd see him more often than her parents."
Coaches and players knew Anderson was a friend of the girl's family, that her mother worked with him and that he had helped family members, who are immigrants, adapt to life in California. The relationship appeared "pretty normal," said former team captain Ruth Apraku, 18, who graduated this year.
The manager of a private soccer club in which the girl played had a different impression.
"Wherever [the girl] was, there was Dr. French," Scott Dority, the club manager, said in an interview. "It bothered me from Day One."
During the high school's last soccer season, which ran from August to March, Anderson stopped attending practices and games, according to coaches and a player. In the spring, the girl talked to a counselor, the counselor contacted county social services personnel and they contacted police, authorities said.
Detectives monitored responses to a series of e-mails sent by the girl to Anderson at their direction, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the case. Police also taped a conversation the girl initiated at the instruction of detectives. She wore a concealed transmitter.
Contacted by a Times reporter, the girl's mother would not answer questions, saying only, "The truth will prevail. I trust the justice system."
Anderson's signal scientific achievement came in 1990, when a team he led cured a hereditary disease of the immune system in a 4-year-old girl. They infused the girl with white cells that had been removed from her blood and supplied with a missing gene. It was the first time gene therapy had been successful in humans, guaranteeing Anderson a place in medical history.
Anderson's achievement also has made him a lightning rod in the controversy over the ethics of genetic manipulation. He has received death threats because of his work and developed a keen interest in personal security measures.