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Suspected abuser's return to school told

Mater Dei's renowned coach apparently let his fired assistant back on campus in another role.

February 09, 2007|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Mater Dei High School basketball coach Gary McKnight, whose record of success spans a quarter-century, quietly allowed an assistant who'd been fired over an alleged sexual relationship with a student to return to campus, according to court records.

McKnight ignored the orders of school officials not to let the former assistant boys' basketball coach, Jeff Andrade, set foot on the Santa Ana campus again, according to depositions in a lawsuit filed by the student. The girl was 15 when the relationship, which Andrade has admitted, began.

Patrick Murphy, president of the Roman Catholic school, testified that the basketball coach was "less than truthful" when he first presented a contract to school administrators that paved the way for Andrade's return to the campus, according to the depositions.

Years before, McKnight was chastised after he burst into an office where Andrade and the girl were being interviewed by school officials investigating the nature of their relationship.

Murphy, who was school principal during the period in question, testified that the coach bellowed, "Don't talk until you get a lawyer!"

Murphy also said in his deposition that after McKnight was told that he could be charged with obstruction of justice and placed on administrative leave, the coach apologized for his behavior.

Mater Dei, one of the largest parochial schools in the country, has been buffeted by sex abuse scandals in recent years, but its boys' basketball program had remained untouched by scandal and has achieved national renown.

In 25 years at the Santa Ana school, McKnight has won more than 700 games, piled up 19 regional titles and sent dozens of players to college programs.

The testimony about McKnight comes in depositions of Murphy and Andrade, who was fired as a basketball coach and driver's education teacher in 1997 after Mater Dei officials suspected he had had a long-running sexual relationship with the student.

Police investigated in 1997, but no charges were filed.

McKnight, his attorney, Mater Dei administrators and officials for the Diocese of Orange, which oversees the school, declined to comment.

The former student sued McKnight, Mater Dei and Andrade in 2005, saying Andrade had molested her for 18 months. Referred to as Jane C.R. Doe in the suit, she is seeking an unspecified amount on grounds of emotional distress.

Andrade, 44, is accused in the suit of having sex with the student, possibly hundreds of times, in such places as McKnight's office, the gymnasium, classrooms, his house and several times in a Las Vegas hotel room when the boys' basketball team was there for a tournament.

In his deposition, Andrade admitted having sex with the student and that he returned to campus several times after his firing, as late as 2000 or 2001, as part of his position with Varsity Gold. The company raises money for school athletic programs and booster groups throughout the U.S. and Canada by selling discount books for restaurants and movie theaters.

Andrade testified that his business contact was McKnight.

Murphy testified that he had told McKnight that "Jeff Andrade was not to be on our campus" and said he was "disappointed" upon learning specifics of Andrade's business relationship with Mater Dei from Andrade's deposition.

When school officials initially learned of Andrade's reappearance on campus a few years after he was fired, Murphy said, McKnight was given oral and written reprimands.

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david.mckibben@latimes.com

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