Warrants: NFA officials knew, dismissed allegations of coach's sexual relations

Norwich Free Academy officials first learned of allegations that then-assistant athletic coach Anthony Facchini was having sex with a student in April 2017 but closed their investigation after he and the alleged victim denied it, according to arrest and search warrants released Wednesday.

Norwich police arrested Facchini 17 months later and charged him with second-degree sexual assault for alleged relations with two female students while he was working as a coach at NFA. Facchini, 25, of 210 Broadway, Norwich, made a brief court appearance Wednesday and his case was continued to Jan. 10.

The warrants were released Wednesday after State's Attorney Michael Regan told Judge Hillary Strackbein that the part of the continuing investigation pertaining to the warrants had been completed.

Norwich police Lt. Christopher Conley said Wednesday no further arrests were expected immediately but added the investigation is ongoing and "we do expect to apply for more arrest warrants." Conley said he could not give a timeframe or the number of anticipated arrests.

One of the released warrants described conflicting information provided by NFA officials regarding the April 2017 allegations, with Campus Safety Director Kevin Rodino stating in his reports at the time and to police this past summer that the initial call was from "an anonymous female" regarding "vague" allegations without details.

But police learned that initial call was made by NFA Curriculum Director Denise Grant, who told police she never told Rodino she wished to remain anonymous. She said he knew her identity from the start based on their years of working together and that his phone would have identified her as the incoming caller.

Rodino wrote a report of his investigation, which started on April 24, 2017, and concluded two days later. Police obtained that report through the search and seizure warrant issued for computers used by the NFA Campus Safety Department and former Athletic Director Eric Swallow, Director of Student Affairs John Iovino and Head of School David Klein.

“Rodino states in the initial report that it was decided, after advising Iovino, Klein and Athletic Director Eric Swallow, that Swallow would meet with Facchini regarding this matter to gain additional information,” the warrant said. “Rodino also noted that if the allegations were found to be true, Facchini would be advised the social interaction should stop immediately.”

Rodino told police that he and other school officials had investigated, and both Facchini and the alleged student victim denied the allegations. “The investigation was therefore closed as ‘unsubstantiated,’ so he saw no need to contact the Norwich Police Department or the State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families," police wrote.

School officials are required by state law to report allegations of sexual assault or abuse of minors to DCF.

Swallow resigned as athletic director Sept. 10, two days before Facchini's arrest.

The arrest warrant said Victim 1 was 17 and 18 during the time of her alleged relationship with Facchini and was an athlete at NFA. She graduated in June 2018. Victim 2 was 15 and 16 in her sophomore and junior years at NFA during her alleged relationship with Facchini and also was an NFA athlete.

New London Attorney Jason Burdick, who represents one of the two students, said the warrants released Wednesday confirmed information he learned in his own investigation: that NFA officials were aware of Facchini’s alleged inappropriate relationships with students more than a year before the second allegation was brought to DCF’s attention.

“Their response shows a clear indifference to the rights of female students at NFA,” Burdick said Wednesday. “They basically knew about it, covered it up. Had they handled it right the first time, they wouldn’t have had the second time. By making that report to DCF, it triggers an investigation, and triggers a response by Norwich police. Had they done that in 2017, Anthony Facchini would have been arrested in 2017. From what I can tell, it looks like the priorities of Klein, Rodino and Swallow was not to protect the students, but to protect NFA.”

Burdick said he and his clients are continuing to review the warrants released Wednesday and will “make a determination of our options and pursue it accordingly.”

He said the NFA board of trustees should act immediately to terminate the administrators who had knowledge of the initial allegations and failed to report them to DCF and police.

NFA spokesman Geoff Serra provided a statement he said was being made on behalf of both the NFA administration and board of trustees Chairwoman Sarette Williams.

“We do not know for certain which documents were unsealed today,” the statement said. “We will be seeking copies of them to review and consult with our legal team. We are not in a position to provide commentary at this time.”

Williams announced early this month that the board had hired an attorney to do an independent investigation into NFA’s response to the allegations. Williams did not return a phone call Wednesday.

In his April 2017 report, Campus Safety Director Rodino wrote that Swallow met with Facchini on April 24, and Facchini said he had met with the student identified in the warrants as Victim 1 at a local gym prior to starting as a volunteer assistant coach at NFA. Facchini told Swallow he was aware of the “boundaries” and what was “not appropriate.” Swallow then told Facchini the school’s investigation would continue.

Guidance Counselor Jessica St. George met with Victim 1, also on April 24, 2017. Rodino’s report said the girl told St. George she met Facchini in the winter of 2016 at a local fitness center. She said they reconnected when he started assisting with fitness training for NFA athletes but she denied dating him or having a romantic relationship with him.

Two days later, Rodino again met with Facchini privately and Facchini again denied having an inappropriate relationship with Victim 1. Facchini told Rodino their relationship had become “a topic of conversation within some social media sites,” the search and seizure warrant stated, and the two agreed to “end all future contact,” the warrant said.

“Based upon the unsubstantiated nature of this information and considering the statements provided by those involved Campus Safety will not pursue this information further,” Rodino wrote in a report, “however: the above administrative parties will continue to monitor this situation. Mr. Klein, Mr. Swallow and Mr. Iovino have all been advised of these findings.”

In the arrest warrant, Victim 1 told police during an interview on June 13, 2018, that she and Facchini had sexual relations from February 2017 through April 2017. In April, Facchini allegedly sent her text messages while she was in class telling her “to delete everything in her phone about their relationship as he was being called into Campus Safety for an investigation.” The warrant stated he also told her to deny “everything regarding their sexual relationship so he wouldn’t get into trouble,” the arrest warrant stated.

Police wrote in the search warrant that NFA’s investigation into the first alleged incident took only two days and did not indicate if the parents of Victim 1 were notified of the investigation and that NFA physical education teacher Susan Hopkins-Terell, who also was informed by Curriculum Director Grant of the first alleged relationship, was not interviewed.

During an interview with police on Aug. 21, 2018, Rodino said in April 2017, he received a “vague” anonymous call regarding the first alleged relationship and he informed Klein, Iovino and Swallow, prompting the internal investigation, which was closed as “unsubstantiated,” Rodino told police.

Klein told police during an Aug. 23, 2018, interview that he trusted Rodino to conduct the investigation, since he was a former police officer. He repeatedly told police the initial information was “anonymous and vague,” the warrant stated.

But Grant alleged that Rodino knew she was the caller and called her back to tell her of the findings.

“She pointed out that there is no way Rodino believed he was talking to an anonymous female because he reported back to her after he looked into it,” police wrote in the search warrant. “Grant stated she felt it was very odd that Rodino would have reported her as anonymous because her identity was never in question.”

Grant also told police she talked with physical education teacher Hopkins-Terell afterward and told police they both felt the issue had been “brushed aside,” the warrant stated.

In requesting the search warrant, police said they were seeking email communications and computer-generated reports contained in NFA officials’ computers, which “can verify or disprove given accounts of this incident or lead to further information which will assist in this investigation,” police wrote in the search warrant.

The girl, Victim 1, told police on June 13, 2018, that she went to Facchini's home in Montville in May 2017 so the two would not be seen together in public. She told police they dated “full time” but in secret after she graduated in June 2017, and stopped in October 2017, but remained friends.

The alleged sexual relations with the second victim came to light on June 8, 2018, when another NFA coach received information at a dinner party that Facchini might be in a relationship with a student. That coach made the state-required oral report to NFA officials and followed up with a written report that prompted the police and DCF investigations on June 10.

According to the campus search and seizure warrant, police Sgt. Peter Camp reviewed the redacted Campus Safety Department investigation report started on June 10. Rodino stated he interviewed the coach who filed the report to DCF, who said that on June 9, Victim 2 made repeated requests to ride with Facchini to an off-campus athletic event and the coach refused the request. Those requests were made one day after the coach first heard rumors of an alleged relationship; the coach made the written report to DCF the next day.

Victim 2 was interviewed by forensic interviewer Evelyn Lasage-Tinero on July 17, 2018, and stated she first met Facchini during a strength and conditioning session with her team. They started exchanging text messages in December 2017 and allegedly had sexual intercourse “five or six separate occasions” at his residence on Broadway in Norwich, the warrant stated. Facchini allegedly told the girl to keep the relationship a secret because of the “consequences he could face,” the warrant stated.

NFA fired Facchini on July 12 after initially reportedly banning him from campus once school ended in June 2018.

During an interview with police on June 14, 2018, Facchini initially denied the allegations but later in the interview told police he had had sexual intercourse with both girls, the arrest warrant stated. He said he met Victim 1 in fall of 2016 and said she “had a crush on me” and wanted to be more than friends but he allegedly told her “it’s gotta wait.” Facchini told police the two had sexual intercourse in his car and at his then-home in Uncasville. The sexual relations stopped just before the April 2017 internal investigation by NFA officials, he told police.

He said he met Victim 2 about January 2017, when he started as a strength and conditioning coach at NFA, and their sexual relations started in early 2018. Facchini told police Victim 2 would sneak out of her home between midnight and 1 a.m. to meet Facchini after her parents were asleep. He told police the last sexual encounter was in April 2018.

Facchini at the time had been co-owner of Rose City Athletics with his sister, Luigina Facchini. Police obtained a search warrant for Anthony Facchini’s cellphone. The arrest warrant included a text exchange between Anthony and “Gina,” his sister, in May 2018 after she viewed the fitness center’s security camera and saw images of her brother kissing Victim 2 near the desk in the facility after hours.

Luigina Facchini texted her brother a strongly worded rebuke peppered with swear words warning him to stop the relationship immediately.

“That is putting not only you at risk to get (expletive) ARRESTED!” police quoted the exchange in the arrest warrant. “But that will (expletive) you with any job in the future and our (expletive) business. No (expletive) more she is a kid.”

Luigina Facchini told The Day on Sept. 12, the day her brother was arrested, that he ceased being affiliated with the business in June 2018.

c.bessette@theday.com

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