Valdez pleads guilty to illicit videotaping

An abrupt resignation which raised many questions and gave few answers culminated in a guilty plea for former Illinois men’s assistant gymnastics coach Jon Valdez on Tuesday.

Valdez pleaded guilty to one felony count of unauthorized videotaping Tuesday afternoon at the Champaign County Circuit …An abrupt resignation which raised many questions and gave few answers culminated in a guilty plea for former Illinois men’s assistant gymnastics coach Jon Valdez on Tuesday.

Valdez pleaded guilty to one felony count of unauthorized videotaping Tuesday afternoon at the Champaign County Circuit Court and received 24 months probation, 50 hours of community service and substance abuse, mental health and sex offender evaluations. The Class 4 felony could have resulted in a sentence of one to three years in prison followed by one year of supervision and/or a fine between $1 and $25,000. With the guilty plea, Valdez admitted to knowingly or voluntarily committing the conduct.

As part of the plea agreement, the state’s attorney agreed not to file any further charges.

“I’m satisfied with the resolution to this case,” State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said Tuesday. “This is appropriate given his lack of prior criminal history; he has accepted responsibility for what he did. He’s been convicted of a felony. He’s been ordered to get evaluations in order to address any issues he might have so it is an appropriate resolution to this case.”

Valdez was caught on camera positioning the video camera in a locker at Kenney Gym, 1402 W. Springfield Ave., in Urbana, according to the state prosecutor’s statements in court. The camera captured former Illinois men’s gymnast Wes Haagensen disrobing and naked in the locker room without consent on Sept. 25, 2008.

“Certainly when someone goes into an enclosed area to change clothes, they expect that they’re not going to be recorded without their knowledge,” Rietz said.

“That’s pretty straightforward. This is a very serious offense. That’s why it’s a felony, and, certainly, we took this case very seriously.”

A camera must be recording for a felony charge to apply. If the camera is set up but is not turned on, the incident will be charged as a misdemeanor.

Haagensen, who was one of the team’s top performers in 2008 and a national all-around runner-up in 2007, had little to say about Valdez’s plea Tuesday night.

“I wasn’t even aware until … now that (Valdez’s hearing) was today,” Haagensen said from the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Other than that, I don’t want to respond to anything more.”

In addition to his job as an assistant at Illinois, Valdez worked as Illinois alumnus and Olympian Justin Spring’s personal coach.

He traveled with Spring to Beijing in August for the 2008 Olympics. On Tuesday, Spring had difficulty finding the words to convey his feelings about the situation.

“I think that’s what people thought all along,” Spring said of the guilty plea. “That’s unfortunate.”

Spring added that despite Valdez’s bad decision, “this doesn’t ignore the good he’s done.” Still, he feels for his former teammate and has spoken to him recently.

“It was an awkward transition for (Haagensen),” but Spring added that he is training in Colorado and doing well.

Valdez, who was represented by Lance Northcutt of Chicago and Roger Webber of Urbana, became an assistant at Illinois in 2000.

The Sam Houston State alumnus was named successor to Illinois men’s gymnastics head coach Yoshi Hayasaki on April 25, 2008, after officially being named assistant coach. Hayasaki plans to step down at the end of the season.

Valdez declined to comment after pleading guilty. Though Northcutt declined to discuss why Valdez set up the camera or if he has apologized to Haagensen, he said Valdez is prepared to move forward.

“Jon is accepting responsibility for his actions today, and in doing so, he’s really hoping that the events are going to be behind him and the distractions and the college and athletes involved is now a thing in the past,” said Northcutt, who would not speculate on his client’s future in gymnastics.

Northcutt declined to answer questions stating, “I’m not in a position to comment other than to say that the plea itself today is him taking responsibility, speaks for itself.”

When asked about any changes or measures the University took following the unauthorized videotaping in the athletic locker room, Assistant Athletics Director Kent Brown said “we reviewed our locker rooms” and are “very confident” that athletes are provided safety and privacy.

Before arriving at Illinois, Valdez spent 15 years on the junior circuit with his last position in Utah at USA World Gymnastics, where he was the head coach and boys’ program director.

Valdez became an involved member of the gymnastics staff following his arrival in 2000, helping Hayasaki with recruiting while directing the strength-training program, overall skill refinement and routine composition.

In 2004, Valdez earned National Assistant Coach of the Year and coached as an assistant at the 2007 U.S. Pan American Games.

His coaching career at Illinois ended with his Oct. 17, 2008, resignation as the men’s gymnastics assistant coach. Shortly after his resignation, the investigation by University police was reported.

At the time, University spokeswoman Robin Kaler confirmed campus police were investigating a camera found in a locker room on campus.

On Nov. 17, 2008, University police carried out search warrants on Valdez’s home, computer and e-mail accounts.

During that search, State’s Attorney Rietz said the video camera was discovered with deleted content.

“But through the miracles of modern technology, we can review that data and reconstruct it, basically,” said Rietz.

“And that’s what they were able to do, to find that, in fact, he had actually recorded someone in the locker room.

“At the beginning of the recording, you can see him set the camera up, and then walk away, and then the recording continues to capture someone who had come in to change.”

Daniel Johnson contributed to this report