Swim coach volunteering with local students is convicted felon - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Swim coach volunteering with local students is convicted felon

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) -A convicted felon - who had been volunteering as a swim coach at Serra High School - was hoping the San Diego Unified School district would hire him as a paid coach at the Tierrasanta school. Those hopes are now under water, after his criminal past came to light.

46-year-old James Pantera said his felony conviction from the 1990s was non-violent, and that he was never a risk to students.

"I apologize for this mess," Pantera told News 8. "This is embarrassing to me."

Pantera applied for a paid coaching job last week, and immediately started volunteering poolside with the students.

At the time, school officials were unaware of his past.

"That was fourteen years ago," Pantera said. "If you want to hold that against me you can hold it against me: feel free."

In 1999, Pantera pleaded guilty in Wisconsin federal court to "making a false statement in application/use of a passport" and to "fraudulently obtaining student loans," according to a judgment obtained by News 8.

Court records show he has used at least four different names, and has a misdemeanor conviction in San Diego for possessing a fake driver's license.

The details of the federal, criminal allegations were reported in an article dated Dec. 2, 1998 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"The reality is, whether they know my background or not, my felony is not on the list of felonies that would preclude me from being a swim coach," he told News 8.

"I am not a risk to them."

Alpine resident Mike Saltzstein, a former vice president for Swimming USA, uncovered Pantera's criminal history. He blew the whistle to the organization, which is the national governing body for swimming Pantera has volunteered for.

Saltzstein discovered Pantera also volunteers with a city-run swim club in Clairemont.

"Just because someone is a volunteer... I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want a felon in charge of children," Saltzstein told News 8. "I think these are the kind of people we need to, as a community, ensure are not leading the next generation of swimmers and children."

Pantera insists Saltzstein is just a bully and that all this complaining is the result of an ongoing feud.

"If that's bullying, while protecting kids, I'll accept that being charged as bullying," Saltzstein responded.

A spokesperson for San Diego city schools said Pantera was being considered for a coaching job at Serra High School but he was never hired.

He was permitted to volunteer poolside with the students pending a background check, which he ultimately failed.

Four years ago, San Diego city schools promised to increase background checks after a sex offender was found volunteering at another local high school.

The school district spokesperson admitted to News 8 that not all volunteers can be checked.

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