More than 120 survivors of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse sent a letter Wednesday morning to the Department of Justice asking for the results of an investigation into how the FBI handled complaints about the former Olympic doctor.
Wednesday marks five years since leaders at USA Gymnastics received a complaint about Nassar’s sexual abuse while treating athletes on the U.S. national team. Several former and current national team members — including Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who made the original report to her gymnastics coach in 2015 — signed the letter sent to Inspector General Michael Horowitz saying they “need to know who in the FBI and Department of Justice was responsible for failing to protect so many vulnerable children and young women from a known sexual predator.”
The FBI opened an investigation into Nassar in the summer of 2015 but took more than a year to make contact with several of the gymnasts and their families who had raised concerns.
Nassar pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and multiple counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2017. After his sentencing hearing garnered international attention in January 2018, a congressional hearing prompted questions and criticism from politicians about why the FBI had failed to act quickly on the initial information it received in the summer of 2015. Nassar continued to see patients for more than a year after the initial complaints, and many women and girls say they were sexually assaulted during that time.
Horowitz opened an investigation in September 2018 into how the FBI handled the case. Employees in the inspector general’s office told parties involved that they had completed the investigation more than a year ago and passed the information on to the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section to determine whether any sanctions were necessary and to prepare a public report.
The inspector general’s report could lead to criminal charges or non-criminal sanctions if members of the FBI are found to have violated the law or not upheld their professional responsibilities.
“Why is the Justice Department sitting on this report?” the survivors asked in their letter. “We do not want it withheld and then have authorities claim they cannot indict and prosecute the people involved in criminal conduct because the statute of limitations has expired.”
A Department of Justice spokeswoman provided a written statement that said, in part, “Victims and the public should rest assured our findings will be made public at the end of our investigation.” The spokeswoman declined to answer when the report would be completed or confirm that the investigation portion had been completed more than a year ago.
The FBI investigation into Nassar was passed between field offices in Indianapolis, Detroit and Los Angeles. Agents interviewed former Olympian McKayla Maroney by phone in September 2015 but did not interview other gymnasts, including those who had made initial complaints about Nassar, until the spring and summer of 2016. The case “dragged on” for more than a year while Nassar continued to sexually assault his patients, according to a congressional report that found the FBI was among the institutions that “fundamentally failed” in the Nassar case.
During that time, former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny exchanged emails and had several conversations with an FBI agent in the Indianapolis office. Penny, who has been charged with evidence tampering in a separate incident related to Nassar, asked special agent W. Jay Abbott for advice on how to handle the evolving case. Penny later recommended Abbott for a security position with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“Our investigation found that the FBI was one of many institutions that enabled Larry Nassar’s abuse,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who helped lead an investigation into the Nassar scandal and co-wrote a pending bill aimed at reforming the way Olympic sports governance handles sexual abuse claims. “It is past time to see the inspector general’s investigation into federal law enforcement’s failures. The survivors deserve answers.”
The inspector general’s report is one of several legal issues yet to be resolved more than two years after Nassar was sentenced to more than 175 years in state prison. Many survivors who signed Wednesday’s letter are also involved in pending civil lawsuits against USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Attempts to reach a settlement in that case have been at a standstill since USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in December 2018.