Local swim coach speaks out after past convicton exposed in complaint

SAN DIEGO - For the first time, a local swim coach is opening up after a former USA Swimming official went public with claims that the coach holds multiple identities and a felony conviction.

Photos from James Pantera's Facebook pages show him doing what he loves: coaching swimming.

In November, he became certified with USA Swimming as a coach. That status is now in question.

As posted on his website, he recently volunteered as a coach with the city's Clairemont swim team.

"Considering your past issue, should you be coaching kids?" asked 10News reporter Michael Chen.

 "Yes," responded Pantera.

Fourteen years ago, Pantera pleaded guilty to federal charges, including student loan fraud. After getting bad grades in college, Pantera said he hacked into a government computer and created a new identity with the same name and reapplied to medical school with a clean slate.

Eventually, he was caught, pleaded guilty and spent nine months in prison.

"I would characterize it as a stupid mistake," said Pantera. "I've been paying for it for 14 years."

His past surfaced again when a former official with USA Swimming, Mike Saltzstein, filed a complaint saying with the group, claiming background checks failed to screen out Pantera and his 11 different identities and three dates of birth.         

10News' public record search did find several different ages that appeared to be linked to him.

Pantera believes any discrepancies are connected to the mess of his 14-year-old case. He said he has no doubt as to why his past is coming up.

"I think the motivation is retaliation," said Pantera.

He said Saltzstein made his past public as Pantera was preparing a complaint accusing Saltzstein of bullying.  

"He has a reputation for yelling and manipulation," said Pantera.

Still, the question remains: how did Pantera pass the background checks? A spokesperson with USA Swimming directed 10News to a background check policy, which says not all felonies are automatic disqualifiers.

Pantera said he was never asked about any prior felonies.

USA Swimming said they will be taking a close look at the allegations that both men are making.

A spokesperson with the city of San Diego's Parks and Recreation Department said that while Pantera did pass a background check, any felony conviction should have disqualified him from a volunteer position. They also plan a second look at the background check process.

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