Former gymnastics coach charged with sexually assaulting underage athlete

A former gymnastics coach has been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting one of his athletes when she was under the age of 13 multiple times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park and Cranford Police Chief James Wozniak jointly announced Tuesday.

Thomas Waddell, 54, of Ridgewood, Bergen County, was arrested at his home without incident on Friday.

The arrest was the result of a nine-month investigation initiated by the Cranford Police Department and jointly involving the Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Victims Unit, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Sheets, who is prosecuting the case. The investigation was launched when the victim wrote a letter to the New Jersey State Police describing the crimes committed against her, Sheets said.

According to the investigation, Waddell was working at the defunct Eastern Gymnastics Academy in Cranford in 1989 when he first started coaching the victim, then a Cranford resident.

Thereafter, Waddell allegedly sexually assaulted the victim multiple times over the course of the next two years, both in multiple private residences and at the defunct Perfect Balance Gymnastics in Mays Landing, Atlantic County, where he started working in the early 1990s. The investigation also revealed that he gave the victim various pieces of jewelry and other items as gifts, telling her how much he cared for her.

Bail for Waddell was set at $75,000 with no cash allowance, and he was ordered not to contact the victim and to surrender his passport.

Anyone with information about Waddell’s activities is being urged to contact Special Victims Unit Detective Brian O’Malley at 908-220-4323 or Cranford PoliceDetective Spencer Durkin at 908-709-7346.

Convictions on first-degree crimes typically result in penalties of 10 to 20 years in state prison, while second-degree crimes are commonly punishable by 5 to 10 years.

These criminal charges are mere accusations. Each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.