Triathlon coach sued in teen sex abuse case
BY BILL BIRD firstname.lastname@example.org February 7, 2013 8:16PM
Robert J. Theodore, 60, of Woodridge, is being sued for financial damages by a teenage boy from Naperville he allegedly abused at the Life Time Fitness center in Warrenville. The Life Time Fitness parent corporation is also named in the lawsuit. | Courtesy of Meyers & Flowers LLC
Updated: March 11, 2013 6:32AM
A lawsuit seeking substantial financial damages has been filed on behalf of a young Naperville man who claims he was sexually molested over a two-year period by a track and triathlon trainer then working at a fitness center in Warrenville.
Attorney Brian J. Perkins said his law firm also represents another youth who was allegedly abused by the trainer, Woodridge resident Robert J. Theodore. Criminal charges have yet to be filed in that case, Perkins said Thursday.
Theodore, 60, is a former Lisle High School track and field coach. He most recently worked as a trainer at Life Time Fitness, 28141 Diehl Road in Warrenville, where one of the alleged molestations occurred.
The 15-page civil lawsuit was filed Thursday in DuPage County Circuit Court in Wheaton. It seeks a minimum of $50,000 in damages from Theodore and LTF Club Operations Co., Inc, the parent company of Life Time Fitness.
Perkins said his firm discovered Life Time Fitness officials “did not conduct a proper background check” on Theodore prior to his hiring, “if they did one at all.”
The lawsuit contends Theodore between 1982 and 1986 worked as a teacher and athletic director for a private school in Tucson, Ariz. He applied to be a mentor with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, and in September 1985 was matched with an 11-year-old “little brother,” according to the litigation.
Theodore in 1986 began spending Wednesday nights and weekends in the boy’s home, the complaint charges. He “would sleep in the same bed as his ‘little brother’ and sexually molest” him, the lawsuit contends.
In December of that year, Theodore pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempted child molestation. He was sentenced to a year in jail and placed on five years of probation, according to the complaint.
Perkins said Theodore completed his probation in McHenry County, and in 2000 or 2001 joined a local, private running club, of which he ultimately became an officer. He was ejected after other club members noted him having “some inappropriate actions with a minor,” Perkins said.
Theodore then applied for work at Life Time Fitness and was hired in February 2001. Perkins said a member of the running club, upon learning of Theodore’s employment, sent a letter in January 2003 to company officials, detailing Theodore’s conviction and providing the names and telephone numbers of police in Arizona and Lisle who were familiar with him.
Perkins said a proper background check would have revealed Theodore’s criminal history to company officials.
“Why did they ignore the letter?” he asked. “It was sent to the head of human resources” at the company’s headquarters in Minnesota, “and they didn’t do anything about it.”
Perkins said Theodore met the Naperville man in 2006 during a running event. The man, now 22, was 15 at the time.
Their sessions “began as typical endurance running training,” the lawsuit alleges. After gaining the teen’s trust, Theodore “found ways to extend the training sessions with excessive stretching, swimming, showering, hot tub, sauna and conversation” in the Warrenville Life Time Fitness men’s locker room, according to the complaint.
Naperville police last year began investigating Theodore and arrested him in September. The lawsuit states Theodore “confessed to numerous acts of sexual conduct,” including acts that occurred at the Warrenville Life Time Fitness center.
A DuPage County grand jury later indicted Theodore on five felony counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, crimes that allegedly occurred between Sept. 14, 2007 and Sept. 13, 2009.
Two of the alleged incidents happened in the boy’s home on Naperville’s northwest side, while two others took place in Theodore’s home, according to the indictment. The fifth occurred when Theodore and the youth were together in the Life Time Fitness hot tub, the indictment declared.
Perkins said he has spoken to Naperville police and prosecutors in the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office about Theodore’s second alleged victim, whom he described only as “a teenager from the western suburbs.” He said he did not know when or if criminal charges would be filed in that matter.
“There’s a pattern of how he targets and grooms children,” Perkins said of Theodore. “If you’re a pedophile who wants to target 15-year-old boys, there’s no better place than to be at a (fitness) club,” recruiting youths for endurance sports, he said.
He added he was not certain whether Theodore might have abused other area youths. “In my heart, I’m hoping there’s not, but in my mind, it seems very likely there are other victims,” he said.
Perkins is a partner in the Meyers & Flowers LLC law firm, which has offices in St. Charles and Chicago. He urged other potential victims of Theodore to contact Naperville police Detective Rich Wistocki, of the department’s high technology crimes unit, at 630-305-5384.
Natalie Bushaw, director of public relations at Life Time Fitness’ corporate headquarters in Chanhassen, Minn., said Saturday night via e-mail she could not comment on the lawsuit “as this is a pending legal matter.”
“With this in mind, when we first learned of these allegations last September we, of course, found them to be startling,” Bushaw wrote. “At that time, we focused our efforts on supporting the local authorities in their investigation.”
“Overall, we remain confident in our track record of providing members with safe, fun, family-oriented experiences and environments, not the least of which involves our programs and services for children,” Bushaw said.
Theodore remains free on $25,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear Feb. 21 in the criminal court case.