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‘Cheer’ star Jerry Harris was warned before child porn arrest by the owner of a gym featured on ‘AGT,’ lawsuit claims

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  • Jerry Harris
    American cheerleader

Four months before his arrest for sexual exploitation of children, cheerleader Jerry Harris ditched his cellphone after a friend told him he might be under investigation, federal prosecutors say. Authorities have not named the person who warned Harris, saying only that it was someone who owns a gym.

An amended lawsuit filed Monday claims the unnamed friend is Angela Rogers, co-owner of Cheer Athletics, a prominent cheerleading company whose Wildcats team competed this year on NBC's "America’s Got Talent."

The suit, filed by the family of two Texas brothers who have accused Harris of abuse, did not provide evidence for the claim. But a timeline the family previously provided to USA TODAY indicates Rogers was one of only a few people who knew about the boys' allegations in May — which is the month prosecutors say Harris received the warning from his friend. The boys' mother Kristen said she spoke to Rogers about the allegations because Harris had been an athlete at Cheer Athletics.

In a statement to USA TODAY, Rogers said: "Cheer Athletics and Angela Rogers categorically deny the allegations made against them. The amended petition contains inaccuracies and is misleading."

Rogers went on to refute several specific claims contained in the lawsuit, including that she attempted to help hide or destroy evidence. She did not explicitly deny that she was the one who had informed Harris. When USA TODAY pressed Rogers on that point, she reiterated her earlier statement, generally denying the allegations against her.

Within days of learning of the allegations, Rogers reported them to multiple law enforcement agencies and to the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF), which governs competitive cheerleading, according to interviews and records obtained by USA TODAY. Rogers previously said Harris had not been affiliated with Cheer Athletics since March 1.

Harris, 21, is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago while his criminal case is pending. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Harris rose to fame when he was featured in Netflix’s "Cheer" docuseries. Prosecutors say Harris admitted last month to soliciting nude photos or sex from between five to 10 children, to having sex with a 15-year-old boy in the bathroom at a cheerleading competition and to paying minors more than $1,000 for explicit photos.

Harris' attorney, Todd Pugh, did not respond to a request for comment.

The FBI began investigating Harris earlier this year after being contacted by Kristen, whose 15-year-old twin sons accused Harris of abuse. The boys, whose accounts were first published by USA TODAY in September as part of a broader investigation into misconduct in cheerleading, said they were harassed by Harris both online and at cheer competitions for more than a year, starting when they were 13 and Harris was 19.

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The family's civil lawsuit, which was amended Monday, had originally been filed in September against Harris, Cheer Athletics, Varsity and USASF, court records show. In it, the family accuses Harris of sexual misconduct and the cheer organizations of negligence and failures to protect the boys from abuse.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente, in a court motion filed last week making his case for keeping Harris behind bars, said a friend contacted Harris about a potential investigation. Parente did not provide the court with the name of the friend or say why that individual "tipped off" Harris. He said Harris told authorities he got rid of his cellphone because he knew it contained evidence of his crimes. The prosecutor said that even after being warned in May, Harris purchased a new phone and kept preying on kids.

Rogers and Cheer Athletics continued to publicly support Harris in the months after Rogers learned Harris was accused of sexual misconduct.

Jerry Harris attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 9 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Jerry Harris attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 9 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Two weeks after she became aware of the allegations, Rogers responded to a tweet from Harris encouraging people to vote in the presidential election. "Love this and you!" Rogers tweeted May 30.

"I love you so much coach Angela!" Harris replied.

In July, when "Cheer" was nominated for six Emmy awards, Cheer Athletics posted a photo of a beaming Harris on its Instagram account with the caption, "Our mood after hearing that our friends from @navarro_college_cheer received 6 EMMY nominations this morning."

Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tricia L. Nadolny are reporters on USA TODAY’s national investigative team. Marisa can be reached at mkwiatko@usatoday.com, @IndyMarisaK or by phone, Signal or WhatsApp at (317) 207-2855. Tricia can be reached tnadolny@usatoday.com or @TriciaNadolny.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jerry Harris of ‘Cheer’ warned by ‘AGT’ team’s owner, suit says