The Justice Department’s internal watchdog sharply criticized the FBI’s inquiry into a former Olympic team doctor who was accused of molesting scores of young gymnasts, concluding in a lengthy report released Wednesday that agents made “fundamental errors” in their investigation and did not respond with a sense of urgency to the allegations.
The 119-page report by the Justice Department’s inspector general paints a damning portrait of how the FBI mishandled serious allegations involving Larry Nassar, a team doctor for the U.S. Olympic team, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.
While the report is especially critical of agents in Indianapolis, the Los Angeles FBI office was cited for failing to “take other action to mitigate the ongoing danger that Nassar posed.”
The report is the latest examination into how failures of oversight and detection by vaunted U.S. athletic programs and federal investigators allowed a trusted doctor to abuse scores of young athletes under the guise of providing them medical treatment.
Indianapolis agents failed to take any serious investigative steps, the report states, permitting the doctor to continue to sexually assault patients until his arrest more than a year later. USA Gymnastics, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, first reported the abuse claims to agents in that city in July 2015.
“Despite the extraordinarily serious nature of the allegations and the possibility that Nassar’s conduct could be continuing, senior officials in the FBI Indianapolis Field Office failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies,” the report concluded.
The report also chastised agents in Los Angeles for not alerting local authorities to the threat Nassar posed after they learned of the abuse allegations about eight months after the first reports to their colleagues in Indianapolis. While those agents took the allegations seriously, the Justice Department watchdog concluded, they failed to act with “prudence or sound judgment” by not alerting authorities in Michigan and Texas to what they uncovered in their probe. Nassar worked with athletes in both states.
Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to 40 to 175 years in prison after having pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault and possession of child pornography. The inspector general’s report concluded that FBI investigators determined the doctor had engaged in the sexual assaults of more than 100 victims and possessed thousands of images of child pornography.
Last year, more than 120 athletes — including gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman — urged the Justice Department to release the results of the inspector general’s investigation.
In their letter, accusers said they had been notified that the inquiry’s conclusions had been forwarded to the Justice Department’s Office of Public Integrity for potential prosecution.
“It is important for our healing for all the facts to come out and for wrongdoers to be held accountable,” the letter stated. “It is also important to maintain public confidence in our federal law enforcement agencies by exposing the truth and initiating reforms so that this never happens again.”
Biles, who is favored to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, said during a recent Facebook watch series, “Simone vs. Herself,” that she felt severely depressed as she came to terms with being abused by Nassar.
“I remember being on the phone with my agent and I remember telling my mom and my agent that I slept all the time and it’s because sleeping was basically better than offing myself,” she said. “It was my way to escape reality. Sleeping was like the closest thing to death for me at that point, so I just slept all the time.”
The Nassar scandal prompted a wave of lawsuits, and Michigan State announced it would set aside $500 million to settle current and future claims. USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee — which has since renamed itself the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee — have faced litigation, greater oversight and extensive staff changes.