FBI can't be condemned enough for its neglect in Larry Nassar scandal (2024)

FBI can't be condemned enough for its neglect in Larry Nassar scandal (1)

The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly finalizing a $100 million settlement with some 100 victims of disgraced gymnastics doctor and serial rapist Larry Nassar. The payment is for the FBI’s abject failures in the case.

The Nassar story has gone on for so long, and the number of victims and payouts have grown so large, that it understandably can fade into almost background noise. What’s another settlement? What’s another headline?

It shouldn’t.

It should be the exact opposite.

Larry Nassar is the most gut-wrenching scandal in American sports history; the wickedness of a trusted doctor, the heartbreak of teen and tween victims and the corruption, incompetence and arrogance of supervising adults.

Yet amid all the deplorable conduct, the FBI’s disgraceful inaction stands out as particularly infuriating. This is, after all, the FBI.

It deserves its own tidal wave of coverage and condemnations — informing and enraging, even all these years later.

On July 28, 2015, then USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny, along with an attorney and a USAG board member walked into the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, not far from USAG headquarters. They brought the results of an internal investigation into allegations of sexual assault by Nassar, a prominent USAG doctor.

It included complaints by three gymnasts, all minors at the time, about Nassar using a supposed medical procedure to digitally rape them. USAG also presented hard drives of evidence, videos and emails of Nassar acknowledging he used the “procedure” and reputable concerns that Nassar may have abused an untold number of gymnasts at locations across the country and even at international competitions.

According to a later report from the DOJ’s inspector general, the FBI in Indianapolis, led by special agent in charge Jay Abbott, walked out of that meeting and … did almost nothing.

They “conducted limited follow-up.” They “did not formally open an investigation or assessment of the matter.”

They did not “alert” any other FBI field office, most notably in Lansing, Michigan, where Nassar lived and continued to work at Michigan State University and with a local youth gymnastics club. This, despite being instructed to do so by an assistant U.S. attorney and then later telling USA Gymnastics that they, in fact, had.

Abbott didn’t even bother to “formally document any of its investigative activity,” including the original meeting.

USA Gymnastics said that the FBI requested it refrain from “making further statements or taking any other action that might interfere with the agency’s investigation.” USAG had previously confronted Nassar with the allegations and accepted his resignation.

The organization said it honored the FBI's request and stood down assuming that an actual investigation was occurring. It wasn’t.

Instead, Nassar was able to continue working in mid-Michigan without suspicion. He was allowed to continue to rape unsuspecting patients at his MSU office and innocent girls at the gymnastics club.

FBI can't be condemned enough for its neglect in Larry Nassar scandal (2)

Many of his victims, testimony would reveal, were driven to Nassar by their parents, who counted their good fortune that their daughter’s injury would be treated by an “Olympic doctor.” The walls of Nassar’s office, after all, featured photos of him with famed gymnasts, many of whom he had previously assaulted but now used as a grotesque grooming mechanism.

It wasn’t until Sept. 12, 2016, nearly 14 months after the USAG went to the FBI, that a story in the Indianapolis Star first informed the public of allegations against Nassar. Just two months later, local authorities in Michigan were able to arrest and charge him for criminal sexual conduct.

In those 14 months of FBI inaction between the USAG meeting and the Star story, Nassar sexually and physically abused dozens of girls.

Dozens. One long-term victim alleged 40 separate sexual assaults during that time.

All while the FBI, despite additional complaints about Nassar to field offices in both Los Angeles and Portland, Maine, sat on its hands. How? Why? The excuses are mostly empty, agents apparently too confused, too disinterested and/or too incapable to take the most basic steps to protect desperate children.

“I am deeply and profoundly sorry to each and every one of you,” Christopher Wray, FBI director since 2017, said to the victims during a 2021 Senate hearing. “I am especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015.”

A public apology by the FBI was extraordinary, yet both pathetically late and pathetically not enough. Faced with a lawsuit, the DOJ apparently won’t even bother with a defense. There is none.

Nassar, 60, is currently serving a 60-year federal prison sentence in Florida, where last July he survived a collapsed lung courtesy of a stabbing by a fellow inmate. There are additional 125- and 175-year maximum sentences in Michigan for assaulting some 150 women, including numerous high-profile Olympic gold medalists.

There are numerous responsible parties who failed Nassar’s victims. Michigan State settled for $500 million; USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee for $380 million more. Individuals have faced charges and trials.

Nothing, however, is as inexcusable as the FBI, which not only had the power, expertise and vast resources to stop Nassar quickly, but whose sole job is to investigate precisely these kinds of widespread and complex crimes.

Not to ease blame elsewhere, but this isn’t a sports governing body, a coach or an administrator.

This is the FBI. If they can’t act or won’t act, then who else is there?

According to the DOJ report, the Indy office argued over jurisdiction and operated without any sense of obligation or urgency despite being literally handed the evidence. Abbott, the special agent in charge, retired soon after the Nassar scandal broke but not before speaking with Penny about an employment position with USA Gymnastics, which the DOJ classified as a conflict of interest.

It was part and parcel of a FBI in disgrace, one that even after evidence of inaction emerged, tried to cover its tracks and shift blame.

“Indianapolis officials did not take responsibility for their failures,” the DOJ report concluded. “Instead, they provided incomplete and inaccurate information in response to FBI internal inquiries (and Abbott, after he retired, provided inaccurate information to the media) to make it appear that the Indianapolis office had been diligent in its follow-up efforts and they did so, in part, by blaming others for their own failures.”

That was the FBI when handed the Nassar case.

And that is what fuels the coming settlement — $100 million for 100 victims, dozens of whom could have been completely spared, completely saved, from Larry Nassar and his reign of terror.

FBI can't be condemned enough for its neglect in Larry Nassar scandal (2024)
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