A 1980s University of Minnesota hockey recruit and four other men are suing a onetime Gophers assistant coach and the U on allegations that they were sexually assaulted by the coach decades ago and those in authority covered up the abuse.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Minnesota by former Gophers recruit Mike Sacks and the others, contends that Thomas "Chico" Adrahtas blindfolded his teenage and college-age victims and sexually assaulted them while making them believe a woman named "Sheila" was performing a sex act on them. The other plaintiffs are Christopher Jensen, Brent Cary, Benjamin Cole and Kelly Gee. They say they also were similarly preyed upon while playing hockey for Adrahtas in Illinois, and the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI) and USA Hockey, the sport's national governing body, failed to protect them.
The suit also alleges that when the University of Minnesota's athletic director at the time, Paul Giel, who died in 2002, was told of the abuse he failed to alert law enforcement and instead reported Adrahtas' actions to the Board of Regents. The suit said the board, in turn, also did not go to authorities.
"Paul Giel, the Athletic Department, UMN and its Board devised a plan to conceal Defendant Adrahtas' criminal activity to avoid negative press and exposure to civil liability and criminal charges," the suit alleges.
That plan, according to the suit, was to fire head coach Brad Buetow without explanation, allow Adrahtas to resign and kick Sacks out of the hockey program two months after being promised a full athletic scholarship and before he could put on the team sweater in a game.
"One day I had friends, and the next day I didn't," Sacks, who lives in the Chicago area, said Friday. "I had to deal with why did hockey blame me when I didn't do anything wrong. Why didn't hockey protect me? They protected themselves and the institution."
Adrahtas portrayed "Sheila" to Sacks and the four other hockey players in Illinois as a woman who "gave the best [oral sex] you've ever had," the suit quoted the coach as telling the players. However, the suit quoted Adrahtas as explaining, the athletes had to be blindfolded because she was "unattractive and had been sexually assaulted at one point."
The ruse was repeated many times and not only involved Adrahtas sexually assaulting the players but also finding other adults who paid the coach so they could be "Sheila," the suit continued.
Several phone, text and e-mail messages were left with Adrahtas, 65, seeking a response to the allegations.
After one season with the Gophers, Adrahtas, then 29, resigned in June 1985 citing personal reasons. From there, he bounced around as a coach primarily in the Chicago area.
In 1988, a junior hockey team owner in Chicago checked with the U on Adrahtas while considering him for a coaching position. The suit alleges the university "did not inform [the owner] that Defendant Adrahtas was forced to leave his job after committing sexual assaults while employed at UMN."
In 2018, Adrahtas quit after 10 years as the men's head hockey coach at Chicago's Robert Morris University (now Roosevelt University) because of the allegations.
In June 2020, the federally authorized U.S. Center for SafeSport permanently banned Adrahtas from coaching virtually any sport at any amateur level anywhere in the country. The suit spells out assaults in Minnesota, Illinois and Florida. He was never charged with a crime.
“It's a different time now, right? All of us, probably myself included, wish we could hit the reset button and handle things a little bit better.”
The U declined the Star Tribune's request Friday to interview any of its senior administrators.
"It's the University's typical practice not to provide further comment on pending or active litigation," said spokesman Jake Ricker, replying on behalf of the university and the regents.
Instead, Ricker reissued a statement from last fall after a law firm the U hired investigated the allegations against Adrahtas and how administrators at the time responded.
The firm of Perkins Coie "found that sexual abuse allegations … were known by individuals within the University's Athletic Department at or around the time of the former assistant coach's departure from the University," read the statement. "Despite this knowledge, available evidence shows no action taken by the University to investigate the allegations at that time. This University bears responsibility for that failure."
The school is not releasing the firm's findings verbatim. Asked whether the university might revive its investigation should the suit reveal any new details, Ricker said, "I believe our attorneys just received the complaint last night … so it's too soon for me to say what next steps may be coming out of the complaint."
Among those suing, Sacks was closest to Adrahtas and his relationship lasted the longest, about three years.
According to the suit: Sacks was 15 when he first met Adrahtas while playing for him for a traveling team in 1982 in the Chicago area. Adrahtas started grooming him after seeing friction between Sacks and his father. Adrahtas persuaded the father to give him legal guardianship over Sacks as a way of enhancing the boy's hockey future.
Adrahtas soon presented Sacks the opportunity for a sex act from "Sheila," something that continued routinely. In early 1984, Sacks won a spot on the St. Paul Vulcans junior team, and Adrahtas joined the Gophers coaching staff. The two moved to Inver Grove Heights. Adrahtas told Sacks that "Sheila" also moved to Minnesota, and the weekly sex encounters continued.
Soon, other adults paid Adrahtas and were allowed to pretend to be "Sheila," but Sacks realized that the sexual contact seemed different.
At one point, Sacks stopped participating in Adrahtas' sex ruse, so the coach targeted other players on the varsity team that appeared "shy, gullible and did not have girlfriends."
One of those players was team captain Tony Kellin, who was immediately suspicious and came up with a sting operation against Adrahtas. Some players accepted the offer of sex, while others waited outside and monitored every point of entry. When no "Sheila" appeared, they realized what Adrahtas was doing and went to Giel and other U personnel with what they found.
“Paul Giel, the Athletic Department, UMN and its Board devised a plan to conceal Defendant Adrahtas' criminal activity to avoid negative press and exposure to civil liability and criminal charges.”
One player for the Gophers at the time, Pat Micheletti, said Friday that he heard during the 1984-85 season what Adrahtas was doing, and he and other players turned to a trusted hockey mentor and asked, "What do we do?"
"He talked to Chico, and Chico was gone within 24 hours," said Micheletti, a KFAN Radio hockey commentator.
Micheletti said he and his teammates "didn't want to bring it to the press. We knew that [Minneapolis Tribune reporter] John Gilbert was lurking around at the time. Talk about being naive, immature and not knowing what to do."
Fellow Gopher hockey alum Corey Millen also was clued into the allegations while on the team, and he reflected Friday on how people in charge kept the allegations as quiet as possible.
"It's a different time now, right?" said Millen, a junior hockey coach in St. Cloud. "All of us, probably myself included, wish we could hit the reset button and handle things a little bit better."
USA Hockey declined to comment on the suit's abuse allegations against Adrahtas from Gee, Cole and Cary in Illinois.
A new statement from the AHAI said it "is confident that the association acted responsibly" when it learned of the allegations against Adrahtas and "met or exceeded its legal, moral and ethical obligations."
Sacks and the others are alleging in their suit violation of their civil rights, gross negligence, fraud, assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Each is seeking at least $75,000 in damages and whatever punitive damages a judge or jury might award if the defendants are found guilty.
Gee said Adrahtas' actions "had a degenerative impact" on his life.
"My habits were being amplified as time went on," said the 38-year-old Gee.
"More of a workaholic and an alcoholic," said Gee, who lives in Denver and is the executive director of Survivors for Change, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting men who have been sexually abused. "It created distance between myself and who I loved and those who loved me. The depression was getting deeper and darker. Intimacy became basically impossible, it really made anything but alone impossible."
Gee said his nonprofit, www.survivorsforchange.org, is for men who "are a victim of sexual abuse and need help or would like to learn more about our mission. We just want to make sure others who are still silenced know they aren't alone. It's a dark place to live."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482