FBI officials botched Nassar sex-abuse probe, DOJ watchdog says

Larry Nassar in court in Lansing, Mich., on May 16, 2017. PHOTO: PAUL SANCYA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

In a critical report released Wednesday, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General slammed federal investigators for dragging their feet, making “fundamental errors”, and violating FBI policy in their response to allegations of sexual assault at the hands of disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Nassar has been accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting at least 265 women and girls behind the cloak of medical treatment. He ended up admitting to 10 of the allegations, which included Olympic athletes and members of the US women’s artistic gymnastics team.

The OIG found that, despite the abuse allegations of an “extraordinarily serious” nature, senior officials from the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to the allegations with the “utmost seriousness and urgency” that they required.

“We also found that the FBI Indianapolis Field Office made fundamental errors when it did respond to the allegations, failed to notify the appropriate FBI field office (the Lansing Resident Agency) or state or local authorities of the allegations, and failed to take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar,” Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said in a statement.

The report found that several officials employed with FBI Indianapolis violated bureau policy, failed to correctly document evidence, and didn’t correctly file an interview from one of Nassar’s accusers until two years after it took place.

The watchdog report said former Indianapolis FBI Special Agent in Charge, W. Jay Abbott, along with an unnamed supervisor, made false statements in an attempt to downplay errors made by his office in the handling of Nassar’s case.

The OIG also found that Abbott breached the FBI’s conflict of interest policy by inquiring with former USAG CEO Steve Penny about a job opportunity within the Olympic committee in the midst of his ongoing involvement in the Nassar probe.

“Abbott violated FBI policy and exercised extremely poor judgment under federal ethics rules when he, without prior authorization, communicated with [former USAG CEO Steve Penny] about a potential job opportunity with the U.S. Olympic Committee, an entity with which Penny had professional connections,” Inspector General Horowitz said in a statement. “Abbott communicated with Penny about the potential job opportunity while the two continued to discuss the allegations against Nassar and while Abbott took an active role in conversations about the FBI’s public statements regarding USA Gymnastics’ handling of those allegations. Abbott should have known — and we found that he in fact did know — that this conduct would raise questions regarding his impartiality. Further, Abbott applied for the position with the U.S. Olympic Committee, and then falsely denied that he had done so when questioned by the OIG on two separate occasions.”

The OIG ultimately made four recommendations to the FBI to modify what they characterized as “shortcomings” in bureau policy regarding notification of local law enforcement in child exploitation cases, which the FBI agreed with.

“As the Inspector General made clear in today’s report, this should not have happened,” the FBI said in a statement. “The FBI will never lose sight of the harm that Nassar’s abuse caused. The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization. The FBI has taken affirmative steps to ensure and has confirmed that those responsible for the misconduct and breach of trust no longer work FBI matters.”

Nassar is currently serving a sentence of de facto life without parole after he was handed down 60 years at the federal level on child pornography charges, coupled with 10 counts of sexual assault of a minor at the Michigan state level, which he was sentenced to 80-to-300 years for in total.

In 2015, USA Gymnastics cut ties with Nassar, who had worked as the organization’s national medical coordinator since 1996, after “learning of athlete concerns” related to sex abuse. Some gymnasts have said they complained about Nassar’s behavior as early as the 1990s.

Nassar is accused of performing sexual assault during medical examinations and treatments on his clients. The abuse ranged in variety from inserting his fingers into gymnasts’ vaginas and anuses, fondling their breasts, and touching their genitalia.

One of the first women to accuse Nassar, Rachael Denhollander, said he molested her across five doctor’s visits in the year 2000 when she was 15. Following complaints by Denhollander and one other gymnast, Nassar was reassigned and later fired from his clinical and teaching job at Michigan State University.

Three of Nassar’s victims, Jeanette Antolin, Jessica Howard, and Jamie Dantzscher gave an interview with 60 Minutes in 2017, where they accused Nassar of sexually abusing them in an “emotionally abusive environment” at training camps near Huntsville, Texas.

In November of 2016, Nassar was charged in Michigan with the sexual assault of a child beginning in 1998, when the victim was 6, and ending in 2005. He pleaded not guilty via videolink, and the case was called the “tip of the iceberg” for Nassar by Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The following month, Nassar was indicted on federal child pornography charges after investigators found almost 40,000 videos and images in his home, including a GoPro video of the doctor molesting girls in a swimming pool. The FBI sifted through the trash outside of Nassar’s home, recovering a hard drive and disks that contained additional material.

Nassar pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced to three consecutive 20-year terms on December 7, 2017.

In November, Nassar pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges in Eaton and Ingham counties in Michigan, where he was accused of molesting 7 girls at his home and a MSU clinic under the guise of medical treatment. In Ingham county, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years behind bars. During his plea hearing, Nassar issued a short apology to his victims.

“For all those involved, I’m so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control,” Nassar said. “I have no animosity toward anyone. I just want healing. … We need to move forward in a sense of growth and healing and I pray (for) that.”

Nassar is currently imprisoned at USP Coleman II, an all-male federal facility northwest of Orlando, where he will stay for the rest of his life.

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