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Secret filming left emotional scars

A former Medford gymnastics coach was sentenced today to 25 years in federal prison for his years of secretly filming young female gymnasts nude in a changing room to fuel his own private pornography collection.

In a packed U.S. District Court, more than a dozen victims and their parents painted their former coach and mentor, Jeffrey Scott Bettman, 57, as a master manipulator who pitted kids and parents against each other while grooming young girls for future abuse.

He had built a changing room fitted with clandestine cameras in two different Medford gyms to film young gymnasts changing for "photo sessions" he pitched as a way to further their careers and highlight their skills.

He used this ruse to amass a collection of at least 469 videos and 220 pictures of at least 65 known victims, 49 of whom were in Oregon and the rest from California, where he had coached previously, according to prosecutors. He then meticulously edited the videos and images, storing them on DVDs with the victims' initials on them for later viewing for his own sexual pleasure.

"This man is an animal and he is a predator in the truest sense of the word," one victim's parent testified.

Some of his victims testified how Bettman regularly touched them inappropriately and often berated them in front of parents, all of whom were conditioned over time not to go against Bettman for fear of a ruined career for the girls.

Some spoke of eating disorders and self-esteem issues after being fondled by Bettman, one telling the court, "I will never like being touched or physically embraced by others."

Many testified how knowing they were secretly filmed robbed them of looking fondly at their gymnastics past and cloaked their present and future.

One victim, who is now in college, had her picture package purchased by her parents as a birthday present. She said discovering her exploitation by Bettman has colored the very fabric of life, including how she can't even use changing rooms in clothing stores.

"I always think there's a possibility that someone could have installed a camera," she said.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken interrupted the more than five-hour hearing after the victims' testimony to laud the girls for their courage in testifying and to implore them not to let their victimization define their lives. 

"I could see the lack, frankly, of life in your eyes," Aiken told the girls after their testimonies. "Get it back.

"The best way to survive this case is to go out and have a great life."

Bettman was facing a maximum sentence of life in federal prison on the 14 counts of production, possession and distribution of child pornography as well as sexual exploitation of a minor for the videos and hundreds of pornographic images he downloaded from the Internet.

Aiken found that circumstances in the case put Bettman high enough on the sentencing ladder to qualify for a maximum sentence of life in prison. However, federal prosecutors had recommended 25 years in prison, and Aiken accepted that as fitting the federal sentencing philosophy of "reasonable but not greater than necessary."

One parent outside of the courtroom noted that the results could be the same.

"Hopefully he turns it into life in prison," the mother said. "That's what he deserves for abusing our trust that we had, and what the girls had in him."

Should it not, he will be under a lifetime of supervision.

Defense attorney Brian Butler argued for the mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, noting that a psychologist hired by the defense concludes a longer term was unnecessary to protect the community.

Dr. Richard Wollert testified he believed that based on factors such as Bettman accepting treatment and his advanced age at release, Bettman statistically had a "close to zero" chance of re-offending once released.

Wollert also said he recognized the depth of pain and hurt Bettman's crimes inflicted on the girls, their families and the community. "But you can't make a prediction on recidivism based on that," he said.

Butler also noted that Bettman, who was originally arrested in 2012 on state pornography charges, was released on bail from the Jackson County Jail in 2014 when jail authorities at the time did not know Bettman had been indicted federally in 2013 and that there was a warrant to arrest him if released.

Bettman did not flee, even though he knew he was facing 25 years in prison, and turned himself in to federal authorities two days later, Butler said in court.

Bettman apologized to his victims in court and took "full responsibility and accountability" for what he called "selfish and self-indulgent behavior."

Aiken chided Bettman for his arrogance and for ruining businesses, marring the development of children and spinning families into chaos before the very pornographic images he amassed became his downfall.

"You caught yourself," Aiken told Bettman. "You ought to be frightful about who you are as a person to lead you down this path."

Bettman came to Oregon in 2004 from California, where he survived a civil suit alleging he sexually groped two girl gymnasts. He coached here first at the Rogue Valley School of Gymnastics in Medford and later at the Southern Oregon Gymnastics Academy.

The Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force discovered Bettman in June 2011 when his computer IP address showed up during another child-pornography investigation. A search of his home led to the pornographic discoveries.

Bettman was coaching at the Unlimited Sports Gymnastics Center in Grants Pass in 2012 when he was first indicted and arrested. The state case remains open.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Jeffrey Scott Bettman