Sexual assault allegations against the USA Gymnastics team’s doctor were mishandled by the FBI, leading to delays in his arrest while dozens more girls were allegedly molested, a Department of Justice review has found.
FBI officials not only failed to promptly investigate the July 2015 accusations against Dr. Larry Nassar, but also failed to notify state or local authorities amid questions of whether there would be federal jurisdiction in the case, the DOJ’s inspector general said in a report on Wednesday.
Between that time and September 2016, when another law enforcement agency searched Nassar’s home and found child pornography, about 70 or more additional young athletes were alleged to have been sexually abused by the doctor.
“Despite the extraordinarily serious nature of the allegations and the possibility that Nassar’s conduct could be continuing, senior officials in the FBI’s Indianapolis field office failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required,” the report said. Agents also “made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond” and violated multiple FBI policies.
By the time all of the allegations against Nassar came to light, he was accused of molesting 265 girls and women over two decades under the guise of giving medical treatment. He had been a doctor not only for the US national team, but also at Michigan State University, a gymnastics club and a high school in the community of Holt. He was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in 2017, then was slapped with 40-175 years on state charges by a Michigan judge in 2018.
Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics advised Nassar that he should no longer attend the organization’s events after reporting allegations against him to the FBI in July 2015, and he retired from his position in September that year. However, the inspector general said, he continued in his roles at Michigan State, Holt and Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, and those employers weren’t informed of the accusations against him.
As the FBI’s Indianapolis office took no action for more than eight months following a September 2015 telephone interview with one of Nassar’s accusers, the national team reported the same allegations to the bureau’s Los Angeles office in May 2016. Although the LA office opened a federal investigation and interviewed several alleged victims, it failed to notify state or local authorities. Only in August 2016, after dozens of gymnasts told Michigan State University police that they had been sexually assaulted by the doctor, did law enforcement close in on Nassar.
The FBI has been covering up the abuse of children for decades, and the case of Larry Nassar is no different.
The two FBI field offices that had received complaints didn’t notify the office in Lansing, Michigan, which only learned of the allegations and opened its probe in October 2016, the inspector general said. The Lansing investigators eventually found more than 30,000 images of child pornography on the devices that university police seized from Nassar’s home.
When the FBI Indianapolis field office came under scrutiny for its handling of the allegations, officials there gave incomplete and inaccurate information to internal reviewers, the review found. Among other allegedly false statements, the special agent in charge of the office, W. Jay Abbott, lied to the inspector general’s office about applying for a job on the US Olympic Committee while consulting with USA Gymnastics chief executive Steve Penny about the Nassar case. Abbott proposed an FBI public statement that would put USA Gymnastics in a good light while relying on Penny to put in a good word for him on his job bid, the report said.
“The actions and inactions of the FBI employees described in the report are inexcusable and a discredit to the organization and the values we hold dear,” said Douglas Leff, assistant director of the bureau’s inspection division. “At the FBI, we consider our mission to protect and serve the American people to be the highest responsibility. The conduct and facts in the report are appalling.”
However, as the report noted, Abbott wasn’t charged with making false statements. Neither were any of the other officials involved in the alleged misconduct. Abbott was allowed to retire with full benefits in 2018.
US Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) issued a joint statement calling for Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to testify to the Senate about the Nassar report’s findings and explain what’s being done to ensure that.
“How many athletes would have been spared unimaginable pain if the FBI had done its job?” Moran asked. “The DOJ now needs to decide if it is going to be yet another institution that fails survivors or if it is going to enforce some measure of accountability for these crimes.”