In front of a packed courtroom Friday morning, an 18-year-old sexual abuse survivor told a Hennepin County judge how her former ice skating coach groomed her, stalked her and repeatedly assaulted her when she was a child.
Interest in the case was so high that the judge, in a rare move, allowed the courtroom doors to remain open so that more than a dozen of the survivor’s supporters could listen to the proceeding.
“… Tom turned my dreams into a nightmare,” the survivor said before her abuser’s sentencing. “He robbed years of my childhood, and I’ll never get those years back.”
Thomas J. Incantalupo, 48, of St. Louis Park, was going to prison for his crimes, but the judge had to decide between a request by his attorneys for 12 years in prison and prosecutors’ request for 27 years.
Incantalupo cried and offered apologies to the court, the skating community and his victim and her family — in that order.
“They ring hollow,” Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said of Incantalupo’s apologies, handing down a 24-year-prison sentence that prompted an audible group sigh of relief.
The survivor’s supporters, which included skating coaches, other students’ parents and one of Incantalupo’s former students, filled both sides of the courtroom.
In a front row sat Incantalupo’s wife, a male supporter and a female former student who told him, “Love you.”
The judge said Incantalupo’s remorse was from the “overwhelming” evidence against him. Cahill also noted a reference in an unspecified court document in which Incantalupo apparently characterized the abuse as an “affair.”
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Erin Lutz noted earlier in Friday’s sentencing that Incantalupo had “stylized” the abuse as an “extramarital affair.”
“This is not cheating on your wife,” Cahill said. “This is a crime against a child.”
Incantalupo pleaded guilty in June to one count each of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He admitted taking the girl to a hotel twice and abusing her. She said in court Friday that he had abused her more frequently.
“He has earned every minute of a 27-year-sentence,” Lutz said.
Incantalupo, dressed in a dark-colored suit, came to court with two of the Twin Cities’ most experienced defense attorneys, Earl Gray and Paul Engh. Engh argued for 12 years, which is the minimum term Incantalupo agreed to in his guilty plea, but said “less would be appropriate.”
“In sex cases, the sentence has already occurred in many cases,” Engh said, adding that Incantalupo has lost his reputation because of media exposure. “He’s been abandoned in the community.”
Engh compared prosecutors’ and probation officers’ proposed sentences to terms given out in murder cases.
A tearful Incantalupo turned around from a podium and looked at the courtroom gallery, including the survivor and her parents, and apologized.
Cahill ordered him to return his gaze to the judge.
Incantalupo started coaching in 1990, was a master-rated freeskate coach and was a coach for Team USA in 2008 and 2010, according to a deleted page on the Eden Prairie Figure Skating Club website. His bio said he performed on multiple TV networks.
The former student supporting Incantalupo blew kisses to him as deputies led him out of the courtroom with his hands handcuffed behind his back.
The survivor told the court that she began training with Incantalupo when she was 9, that the abuse began in 2015 when she was 14 and that she had looked up to him as a father figure.
The fact that so many people in the sport “loved” Incantalupo made speaking up more difficult, she said.
“Even before Tom sexually assaulted me, he started crossing my boundaries and invading my privacy,” she said. “He would take my phone and look through my messages. He was harassing me about social media. He would yell at me until I cried.”
Incantalupo emotionally and sexually abused her, she said, isolating her from her friends and family.
He stalked her, posing as a teenage boy on social media in order to spread hurtful rumors about her to her classmates.
She began cutting herself and planned ways to kill herself until she found out that Incantalupo was messaging her younger brother, who also took lessons from him.
“I couldn’t leave my little brother behind,” she said, “because he had never failed me.”
The family’s attorney, Sarah Klein, the first known sexual abuse survivor of former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar, held a news conference afterward calling for reform in the U.S. Figure Skating organization.
“Today our client and her family demonstrated tremendous courage,” Klein said. “Throughout the world of figure skating, children are still at risk.”
The organization needs to tell parents when coaches are banned for sexual misconduct, she said.
U.S. Figure Skating has a “long and shameful history” of putting money, medals and coaches’ reputations above children’s safety, Klein said, adding that the organization should be investigated to determine whether anyone knew about Incantalupo.
He is not being investigated for abusing others, Klein said, but she believes he has more victims.
U.S. Figure Skating declined to address Klein’s statements but issued a written statement saying Incantalupo’s actions were “heinous.”
“U.S. Figure Skating stands with and supports the skater who bravely came forward after years of abuse by Thomas Incantalupo,” the statement said. “By sharing the disturbing details of his grooming process and resulting sexual abuse, her voice and strength have put Incantalupo behind bars for his abhorrent crimes and provided other athletes and families the warning signs of grooming and abuse.”
The organization asked anyone who has been abused or suspects abuse to report it to the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, police or U.S. Figure Skating.
Klein said her client plans to take civil action against U.S. Figure Skating.