The office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has released a damning report charging that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) covered up its lassitude in pursuing allegations against former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar after he had been accused of sexual abuse of girls on the team.
The OIG reports that FBI headquarters drafted “a white paper (relying on Indianapolis Field Office information) that was intended to summarize the FBI’s handling of the Nassar allegations but omitted information about the FBI’s failure to timely interview the victim gymnasts.”
Nassar worked as an Osteopathic Physician and Associate Professor at Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Family and Community Medicine, where for most of that time, he was employed as the USA Gymnastics National Medical Coordinator and a treating physician for gymnasts.
The OIG details how 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.
Penny told the FBI that three gymnasts, all of whom were minors at the time of the alleged sexual assaults, accused Nassar of sexual assault and that they were available to be interviewed. Nassar retired from his USA Gymnastics position in September 2015 while still working at MSU, Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, and Holt High School.
“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 OIG reports. “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.”
In September 2015, the Indianapolis Field Office, along with the USAO for the Southern District of Indiana, “concluded that there was no venue in Indianapolis since Indianapolis had no connection to any of the alleged illegal activity. Further, both offices 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.”
Although it was recommended that the proper venue for the case was in Michigan, the Indianapolis Field Office failed to properly transfer the investigation, “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). “
In the fall of 2015, Indianapolis Field Office Special Agent in Charge (SAC) W. Jay Abbott spoke to Penny about a potential job opportunity with the U.S. Olympic Committee. Penny was worried about how USA Gymnastics was being portrayed in the media and whether Penny might be “in trouble.” They discussed Abbott “proposing to his colleagues an FBI public statement that would place USA Gymnastics in a positive light. At the same time, Abbott was aware that Penny appeared willing to put in a good word on Abbott’s behalf. Abbott applied for the U.S. Olympic Committee position in 2017 but was not selected. Despite evidence confirming that Abbott had applied for the job, Abbott denied to the OIG during two interviews that he had applied for the position and told the OIG that applying for the job would have presented a conflict of interest.”
In the spring of 2016, USA Gymnastics officials contacted the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, which contacted a Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) in the Indianapolis Field Office (Indianapolis SSA) who stated he had created a formal FBI complaint form (FD-71) in 2015 to transfer the Nassar allegations from the Indianapolis office to the Lansing Resident Agency. No evidence of the FD-71 in the FBI’s computer system was found.
Although the Los Angeles Field Office opened a federal sexual tourism investigation against Nassar and interviewed several of Nassar’s alleged victims, it did not contact state or local authorities, the OIG report states.
“In August 2016, the Michigan State University Police Department (MSUPD) received a separate complaint from a gymnast who stated that she was sexually assaulted by Nassar when she was 16 years old,” the OIG states. “Two weeks later, The Indianapolis Star ran a news story describing sexual assault allegations against Nassar by former gymnasts. The MSUPD then received similar sexual abuse complaints against Nassar from dozens of additional young females, and, on September 20, 2016, the MSUPD executed a search warrant at Nassar’s residence and discovered child pornography.”
As a result of the news stories and MSUPD investigative activity, the FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency first learned of the Nassar allegations and opened its Nassar investigation on October 5, 2016 (neither the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office nor the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office had previously informed the Lansing Resident Agency of the Nassar allegations).
In February 2018, at Nassar’s sentencing where victims were allowed to speak, Randall Margraves, whose three daughters were allegedly sexually assaulted by Nassar, stood facing Nassar in the Michigan courtroom. Margraves, whose daughters Lauren and Madison Rae had just finished speaking, plaintively asked the judge if he could have five minutes alone with the “demon” in a locked room. When the judge refused, saying, “You know I can’t do that,” Margraves hurled himself toward Nassar, prompting security officers to restrain him as Margraves cried out, “Let me at that son-of-a-b****!”
Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis, the lead prosecutor, stated, “You cannot behave like that. No one can behave like this. I want to make sure it’s crystal clear.”
Margraves hurled back at her, “You haven’t lived through it, lady.”
Nassar was sentenced to a minimum of 40 years and maximum of 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting scores of young girls, including members of the USA Olympic Gymnastic team Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and others.
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