Pale and exhausted, looking even younger and more vulnerable than her 17 years, Dominique Moceanu sat back in her seat at Houston's Intercontinental Airport last Wednesday and said in quiet resignation, "It kills me to do this to my father. I never meant to hurt him, but I had no choice."
It has been a nightmarish autumn for the 1996 Olympic gold medal gymnast. In October she successfully sued for legal and financial independence from her bullying father, 44-year-old Dumitru Moceanu, who, it now appears, has squandered his daughter's trust fund to finance a monstrously oversized gymnastics facility outside Houston and allegedly tried to hire a hit man to kill two of the people who have helped Dominique wrest control of her life from him. "The money's just money," says Dominique, who has earned an estimated $2 million to $2.5 million since she burst onto the international gymnastics scene at age 10. "Sure, I could have been set for life, but I can start over. I wish we'd never had money and still had a family."
There won't be a family reunion anytime soon. On Dec. 9, after listening to four hours of emotional testimony from Dominique and her father, among others, Texas district judge John Montgomery ordered Dumitru to stay away from Dominique for one year. The elder Moceanu, who moved to the U.S. from Romania in 1979, was barred from coming within 500 feet of Dominique's residence, school or training facility and is forbidden from communicating with her except through a lawyer or in writing.
Dominique has always been afraid of her father, an obsessively controlling man who, she testified, slapped her in the face two or three times a year for offenses such as gaining weight or sneaking candy. According to his daughter and several other people who know him, Dumitru has a violent temper. Dominique's fear turned to outrage on the morning of Nov. 13 when three Houston police officers came to her apartment and asked her to telephone a close friend of hers, Brian Hug-gins, and invite him over so the officers could talk to them together. Dumitru has accused Huggins, 32, of having an affair with Dominique; both Huggins, who is married and has a child, and Dominique vehemently deny this. "Never was, never will be a relationship," she says. "It's pretty sad my father would say those things. I've never even had a boyfriend."
Huggins recalls arriving at Dominique's apartment and being told by Sgt. Hal Kennedy, "Mr. Moceanu doesn't like you."
"I know that," Huggins replied.
"You don't understand," Kennedy said. "He really doesn't like you. He's taken out a contract on your life."
The officers told Dominique and Huggins that Dumitru had also been talking about having Dominique's coach, 26-year-old Luminita Miscenco, killed. Huggins and Miscenco, who has coached Dominique since last January, had helped her escape from home and begin the legal process of being declared an adult. The police have three tapes in which Dumitru allegedly discusses the hits with a confidential informant, believed to be a private investigator he had hired. A source who has listened to the tapes—the contents of which have not been made public—says that Dumitru was prepared to pay $10,000 for the two hits, which were set for Nov. 20, six days before Thanksgiving. He even discussed how to dispose of the bodies and suggested that the murders be made to look like drug overdoses. The only thing preventing police from making an arrest, Huggins and Dominique were told, was that her father, who is notorious for delaying payment of all debts for as long as possible, had yet to make a down payment on the contract.
"To arrest someone for conspiracy to commit murder in Texas, the suspect needs to make a down payment, provide a weapon—something," explains Sgt. D.D. Shirley, one of the investigating officers.
Three days later, with Huggins and Dominique in hiding in the Cayman Islands, Dumitru abruptly broke off contact with the informant, according to police, who believe that someone, probably an associate of Miscenco's, inadvertently alerted Dumitru to the investigation.