During last week's hearing, when Dumitru was asked by Dominique's attorney, Ellen Yarrell, "Did you discuss hiring your investigator to kill Brian Huggins and Luminita Miscenco?" he declined to answer, citing his constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
"I got most scared when they couldn't catch my dad," Dominique says. "I had no problem believing in the plot. He's capable of it. I don't know what happened to him. I don't know what makes him tick."
Many of those who have done business with Dumitru Moceanu, a former used-car salesman, will tell you that money is what makes him tick, and for the past month he's had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that his money train, Dominique, has left the station. "His true colors didn't show until after the Olympics," says Dominique's former agent, Stan Feig, who dropped her as a client last summer when he became outraged at her father's mishandling of her trust fund. "You saw all this money going out—additions to the house, the building of that ridiculous gym—and he hadn't had a job since 1996. He's going to lose the gym. He might lose his house. He's a bad guy. Dominique's truly a victim."
Moceanu Gymnastics, Inc. is built more on the scale of a blimp factory than a gym. Opened in May 1997, the structure is preposterously outsized—72,000 square feet, the equivalent of a football field. Dumitru refuses to discuss the building, but people familiar with its construction estimate that the gym cost about $2.5 million; public records show that Dumitru took out at least two loans for the project totaling $989,000 from the Woodforest National Bank, both of which must be paid back by November 1999. They were secured by his daughter's trust, which will be responsible for the balance of the debt if Moceanu Gymnastics, Inc., goes bust, as seems increasingly likely. The gym, now without its marquee athlete, has fewer than 200 students, and enrollment is dropping every day as a result of the recent publicity. Also, at least three coaches, fed up with Dumitru's skinflint ways and imperious manner, have quit, and he has been unable to replace them.
A monument to inefficiency, the gym has 48-foot-high ceilings covering some 3,370,000 cubic feet of space, which must be air-conditioned during Houston's sweltering summers. Former employees report that the gym's electric bills run between $5,000 and $7,000 a month—five times the cost at a gym about a mile down the road, Basel's Gymnastics and Cheer, which trains more than 1,000 students in a modest 20,000-square-foot area.
According to some of Dumitru's former employees, he has tried to cut costs by either turning down the air conditioning or shutting it off completely. "He used to set it to 80 degrees," says Sally Clark, 20, who coached at the gym for a year before quitting last month. "One four-year-old started throwing up from the heat, and the mother had to put the child in a cold shower to get her body temperature down. Parents started turning up the air conditioning themselves, so Dumitru put locks on the units so no one could adjust them."
Dumitru has been so late on payments that several contractors have gone to court and won judgments that resulted in liens against the property. According to court documents, four contractors—a trucking company, a concrete company, an equipment company and an architect—have sought a total of $62,274. "He's drowning in the finances," says Brad Hunt, head of Gold Medal Management, who is trying to recoup the balance of a $25,000 advance his firm paid Dumitru on Sept. 18 when he agreed to let Hunt represent his daughter. (Dumitru has paid back $2,000.) Gold Medal, at that time unaware of the family dynamics, subsequently released her from the contract, and in November she signed with the firm on her own.
"He's under financial pressure," Dumitru's lawyer, Katherine Scardino, says of her client. "People are leaving the gym every day, and the continuing publicity doesn't help." But when Dumitru is asked if he's worried about the solvency of Moceanu Gymnastics, Inc., he says, "I'm not worried at all."
"He's a snake and a con artist," says Huggins, a representative for a large equipment firm who says he lent machinery for the construction of the gym pro bono because Dumitru had told him the facility was going to be used not just for Moceanu Gymnastics, Inc. but also for community recreational programs. "I would vouch for him with business associates, and it put a black mark on my reputation."
For now, Dominique is living off what remains of the $10,000 check she got for winning the all-around title at the Goodwill Games in July, a crown that heralded her return to the top of her sport after a frustrating year in which she grew six inches, to 5'2". She still receives $800 a month from U.S.A. Gymnastics for being on the national team, though she hasn't set foot in a gym since Oct. 17—the day her father fired Miscenco, a move that precipitated the emotionally shattering events that have followed. Dominique, a high school senior who until this year had never had her own checking account, has had to make the overnight transition from overprotected, tightly controlled gymnastics prodigy to independent young adult.