"American Ninja Warrior" winner Drew Drechsel was arrested Tuesday on federal child-sex-related charges, just weeks after a new season of the reality competition series was taped in St. Louis that prominently features him.
NBC Wednesday severed ties with Drechsel and pledged to eliminate his appearance from the upcoming season, due Sept. 7.
"We are shocked and disturbed to learn about the charges alleged against Drew Drechsel," the network said in a statement. "'American Ninja Warrior' is a family show that has inspired countless people, and we will not let the actions of one contestant tarnish the hard work and amazing stories of so many. Moving forward, the American Ninja Warrior brand will sever all ties with Mr. Drechsel, including his appearance on future seasons of the show."
Drechsel, 31, of Saint Cloud, Florida, was arrested Tuesday and charged "with seeking sex with a minor and inducing her to send him sexual explicit images." He appeared in court Tuesday in Florida before his transfer to New Jersey, Craig Carpentino, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said in a statement.
Drechsel was charged with manufacture of child pornography, enticement of a minor to travel for illicit sexual conduct, travel with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor and use of interstate commerce to entice a minor. The criminal complaint says Drechsel met the alleged victim, a teen from New Jersey, "after an event attended by numerous contestants (from) 'American Ninja Warrior.'"
If convicted, the charges carry a range of maximum prison sentences, from 20 years to life in prison. The counts each carry a maximum fine of $250,000.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Frank J. Riccio II, a Connecticut lawyer representing Drechsel, said his client "maintains his innocence and does intend on entering a 'not guilty' plea in his case. We await the review of the evidence in order to properly evaluate all options available to him."
According to a criminal affidavit, Drechsel had sex in 2015 with the alleged victim, then 15, at his Hamden, Connecticut, gym behind a warped wall, a tall, curved obstacle that's a staple of the competition.
The teen told her mother, who confronted Drechsel and said her daughter had just turned 15, the affidavit says. She said Drechsel did not deny having sex but said he did not know the teen's age.
The alleged victim made a complaint to police in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, last year, when she was 19, saying she and Drechsel had multiple sexual encounters when she was 15 to 17 years old. They sometimes had sex outside a gym in Hainesport, New Jersey.
The U.S. Attorney's statement said Drechsel also induced the teen "to manufacture sexually explicit images of herself and send them" to him.
Drechsel, who made his first "Ninja" appearance in 2011, last summer became only the second winner the 11 seasons of NBC's version of the grueling obstacle-course contest that originated in Japan.
His arrest comes less than two weeks after Drechsel competed in a shortened "Ninja" filmed at the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis under health and safety protocols put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After qualifier episodes in cities around the country were shelved in March, "Ninja" eventually moved forward with a season of eight episodes, half the usual 16, taped from July 14 to 23 inside the St. Louis dome. The show shifted to a team format, inviting 50 of its biggest names from past seasons, with each choosing two more competitors, men and women, of their own choosing.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: American Ninja Warrior winner Drew Drechsel faces child-sex charges