13 of Larry Nassar’s victims are suing the FBI for $130 million after a DOJ report exposed the agency’s failure to follow-up on evidence against Nassar.
“Investigation and Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Handling of Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Former USA Gymnastics Physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar,” began a report on the FBI’s handling of accusations against convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar.
The report was issued by the U.S. Justice Department in July of 2021. Under “Introduction and Factual Findings,” the Executive Summary begins:
“The U.S. Department of Justice (Department, DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) initiated this investigation based on allegations that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) employees in the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office mishandled allegations of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar.”
“Nassar was employed as an Osteopathic Physician and Associate Professor at Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Family and Community Medicine, where he treated patients from 1996 through 2016. For most of that time, Nassar also was employed as the USA Gymnastics National Medical Coordinator and a treating physician for gymnasts,” the report continues. “Among the places where Nassar treated athletes was at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center in Texas. In addition, Nassar worked in Michigan as the team physician for the Twistars USA Gymnastics Club and at Holt High School.”
Under the sub-heading, “USA Gymnastics Reports Sexual Assault Allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office in July 2015; “Indianapolis’s Investigative Response,” according to the report, was as follows:
“In July 2015, following a USA Gymnastics internal investigation into allegations of sexual assault by Nassar against multiple gymnasts, USA Gymnastics President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen D. Penny, Jr. reported the allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office,” the DOJ found. “During the meeting, among other things, Penny described graphic information that three gymnasts (Gymnasts 1,2, and 3), all of whom were minors at the time of the alleged sexual assaults, had provided to USA Gymnastics.”
“Penny further informed the FBI that the three athletes were available to be interviewed,” according to the report. “Penny noted during the meeting that Nassar told USA Gymnastics that he was performing a legitimate medical procedure during his treatments of the gymnasts and denied sexually assaulting them. Further, Penny provided the FBI with a thumb drive containing PowerPoint slides and videos that Nassar had provided to USA Gymnastics of Nassar performing his purported medical technique on athletes.”
“Shortly after the meeting, USA Gymnastics advised Nassar that he should no longer attend USA Gymnastics events, and Nassar retired from his USA Gymnastics position in September 2015,” the Department of Justice report advised, before adding, grimly: “However, Nassar continued to maintain his positions at MSU, Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, and Holt High School.”
From there, the report only gets worse.
“Over the next 6 weeks, the Indianapolis Field Office conducted limited follow-up, which involved conducting a telephonic interview on September 2 of one of the three athletes, reviewing the thumb drive provided by Penny, and discussing the allegations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) in the Southern District of Indiana and the FBI’s Detroit Field Office,” the DOJ report continued. “The Indianapolis office did not formally document any of its investigative activity, including its July meeting with USA Gymnastics and its September 2 telephonic interview of one of the victim gymnasts. The office also did not formally open an investigation or assessment of the matter.”
“The only 2015 Indianapolis Field Office documentation located by the OIG consisted of five pages of handwritten notes taken by two of the FBI attendees at the July 2015 meeting with USA Gymnastics, three pages of notes taken by the two agents at the September 2 interview of the one athlete, a handful of email exchanges between Penny and the FBI Indianapolis Field Office, and approximately 45 emails and text messages among agents and prosecutors,” was the DOJ assessment.
After the Indianapolis FBI office, “concluded that there was no venue in Indianapolis since Indianapolis had no connection to any of the alleged illegal activity,” the office, “had serious questions as to whether the allegations against Nassar were sufficient to support federal jurisdiction.”
“Yet the Indianapolis Field Office did not advise state or local authorities about the allegations and did not take any action to mitigate the risk to gymnasts that Nassar continued to treat,” was one of the most egregious revelations of the report.
Finally, the Indianapolis office and Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA), “determined that, if the FBI had jurisdiction, venue would likely be more appropriate in the Western District of Michigan and the FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency, where MSU is located and where Nassar treated patients. Accordingly, the AUSA advised the Indianapolis Field Office to transfer the case to FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency.”
“However,” the report went on, dropping the hammer, “the Indianapolis Field Office failed to do so, despite informing USA Gymnastics on September 4 that it had transferred the matter to the FBI’s Detroit Field Office (of which the FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency is a part).”
The damning report continues in this vein for 119 pages. Some of the highlights include details of FBI agents giving false statements, “to minimize errors made by the Indianapolis Field Office in connection with the handling of the Nassar accusations,” and one agent actually angling for a job at USA Gymnastics.
Not contained in the report is the heartbreak, anger and frustration of Nassar’s victims upon learning that their courageous act in coming forward was met with such callousness and inaction. Also not contained in the report, is why the Justice Department declined to pursue charges against FBI agents for what may have been interference with an ongoing criminal investigation.
“They left us at the disposal of a predator,” survivor and advocate Grace French said of the FBI’s role in the case.
Larry Nassar eventually would face a mountain of charges and receive life in prison for his crimes against young athletes, but not because of the FBI.
In fact, the Indianapolis FBI Field Office did not do anything to stop Larry Nassar until long after the Indianapolis Star published an expose on the case in September of 2016.
“The report, citing civil court documents, said that 70 or more young athletes had been sexually abused by Mr. Nassar between July 2015, when U.S.A. Gymnastics first reported allegations against Mr. Nassar to the F.B.I.’s Indianapolis field office, and August 2016, when the Michigan State University Police Department received a separate complaint,” wrote Juliet Macur and Michael Levenson for the New York Times on July 14, 2021.
“This is a devastating indictment of the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice that multiple federal agents covered up Nassar’s abuse and child molestation,” said John Manly, one of the attorneys representing Nassar’s victims. “They’ve failed these women. They’ve failed these families. No one seems to give a damn about these little girls.”
“I am deeply sorry that, in this case, the victims did not receive the response or the protection that they deserved,” said U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in October of 2021. “I can inform the committee today that the recently confirmed assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division is currently reviewing this matter, including new information that has come to light.”
While Monaco declined to say anything further, it was noted by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) that there is a statute of limitations for lying to the FBI.
“Isn’t it likely that any criminal charges for lying to the FBI would be barred by the statute of limitations?” Cornyn asked.
“Senator Cornyn,” Monaco answered testily, “I really don’t want to get into the specifics about what legal theories could be pursued, what evidence may be pursued.”
“Oh,” replied Sen. Cornyn, interrupting her; “I’m asking about the statute of limitations.”
Luckily, NPR’s own Carrie Johnson stepped in at this point to clear things up.
“The inspector general’s report shows the clock has not run out on a possible prosecution for those alleged false statements because they happened less than five years ago,” Johnson told NPR audiences. “It’s not clear what other legal avenues the Justice Department may be pursing or whether USA Gymnastics or the Olympic Committee are part of the review.”
The problem is that this case dates back to 2015, when the allegations against Larry Nassar were first raised with the FBI. The FBI agents at the center of this controversy are accused of making false statements and omitting material evidence in a 2017 report.
As it is now 2022, and indeed the five year statute of limitations is fast approaching if it hasn’t passed already, it isn’t hard to understand why the victims of Larry Nassar, who accuse the FBI of complicity in the case, are now moving forward with a lawsuit against the agency.
13 victims of Larry Nassar have sued the FBI for $130 million dollars.
“The Justice Department has not made this a priority,” said Manly, who is representing several victims including well-known Olympic athletes Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. “They obviously don’t care that FBI agents…lied to hide one of the worst pedophiles in American history.”
Though the Department of Justice announced in October it would reevaluate its earlier decision not to charge two former FBI agents for failing to act on evidence against Nassar, nothing seems to have been done in all the many months since.
While it is true that the wheels of justice turn slowly, for the victims of Larry Nassar forced to endure his abuse after his crimes had been reported to the FBI, this is a travesty and a miscarriage of justice.
“So much betrayal,” wrote Rachael Denhollander on Twitter on July 14, 2021. Denhollander was the first of Nassar’s many victims to come forward. “For six years the facts have trickled out. The level of failure, corruption, collusion. The absolute lack of value for the athletes who reported and the little girls suffering at Larry’s hands every single day. We have waited for six years for someone to admit what we knew.”
“For the past six years, the FBI has continued to lie about what they did,” she went on in a thread. “The DOJ took six years to investigate. It took immense public pressure for this report to be released.”
Once the report had been released, however, more should have been done, and seen to have been done, to restore faith and trust in an institution which has seen its credibility badly damaged by this whole episode.
The survivors of Larry Nassar deserved better and it isn’t too late to see that they get it.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)