(CBS/AP) ROCKVILLE, Md. - Richard J. Curl, a once-prominent Washington, DC area swimming coach who trained thousands of children, was sentenced to seven years in prison Thursday for sexually abusing one of the girls he instructed.
Curl, who last year was banned for life from the sport by USA Swimming, apologized for abusing the girl over a four-year period in the 1980s. The abuse started when she was 13 and took place in their respective homes, inside his private school office and at hotels where they stayed for swim meets. He was charged last year after the allegations of abuse against the woman, Kelley Davies Currin, became public.
Curl turned to the woman inside a Maryland courtroom packed with his supporters, apologized, and told her, "Every day of my life has been spent thinking and feeling awful about my behavior."
The sentence was less than the 15 years he could have faced, but much higher than the probation sought by his attorneys. He was immediately taken into custody.
The sentencing capped a precipitous fall for a man who was once one of the nation's most prominent swim coaches, responsible for building up a well-known swim club in the Washington area and training pupils including 1996 and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Tom Dolan.
The now-43-year-old victim told media after the sentencing that Congress should investigate USA Swimming for protecting "predator coaches" and allowing them to keep their jobs despite sex abuse allegations. She called Curl's abuse of her "the worst-kept secret in Washington, D.C., and, indeed, in the swimming world."
The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Currin has told her story publicly and agreed to allow her name to be used.
Curl, 63, of Vienna, Va., pleaded guilty last year to abusing Currin over four years starting when she was 13, though they had first met years earlier.
Prosecutors say he told the girl that he loved her and would ultimately marry her even while he became engaged to a woman. Currin, who recounted to a judge her adult struggles with alcoholism, an eating disorder and bouts of therapy, recalled how she craved Curl's attention as a child, dancing with him at his wedding and going with her parents to the hospital to meet his newborn baby. She said Curl told her he'd name his firstborn child after her.
"I loved, trusted and cherished him as much as a young girl's heart and mind could," she said.
Her parents discovered the abuse by reading her diary. They confronted Curl but did not pursue criminal charges. Instead, they reached a 1987 financial settlement that kept the allegations private -- a decision Currin said she regrets.
Curl's lawyers pleaded for leniency, saying he admitted to the abuse in a letter to the victim's parents and in the legal settlement. They said he had pleaded guilty, instead of going to trial, had never committed another act of sexual abuse and kicked an alcohol habit.
"Mr. Curl didn't deny it, he didn't take it to trial, he hasn't misled anyone in the courtroom," said one of his lawyers, Thomas Kelly.
"This case really is a tale of two lives," said another defense lawyer, Bruce Marcus.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Marielsa Bernard said that while she was confident Curl would not reoffend, she thought it was important to send a message that criminals will be held accountable no matter when they're caught. Prosecutors said Curl and his attorneys had tried to minimize the abuse by referring to it as a "mistake" and by suggesting that the two had a relationship.
"This is a case about child sex abuse. This is a case about a man who met a girl at the age of 9 who had aspirations of being an Olympic swimmer," prosecutor Debbie Feinstein said, adding, "This is a case of justice delayed, not justice denied."