LANE ONE: FBI Inspector General report rips FBI offices and agents for lack of action for months after allegations against Larry Nassar

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Wednesday’s long-awaited report of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to respond properly to allegations of abuse against former USA Gymnastics volunteer team physician Larry Nassar. Advised in July 2015 of the issue:

“[T]he Indianapolis Field Office did not advise state or local authorities about the allegations and did not take any action to mitigate the risk to gymnasts that Nassar continued to treat. Instead, the Indianapolis agents and Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) determined that, if the FBI had jurisdiction, venue would likely be most appropriate in the Western District of Michigan and the FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency, where [Michigan State University] is located and where Nassar treated patients.

“Accordingly, the AUSA advised the Indianapolis Field Office on September 2 to transfer the case to the FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency. However, the Indianapolis Field Office failed to do so, despite informing USA Gymnastics on September 4 that it had transferred the matter to the FBI’s Detroit Field Office (of which the FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency is a part).”

For those who ask “what the hell happened” in the Nassar investigation, there it is.

But it gets worse. The report explains:

● USA Gymnastics reported the same allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles office in May 2016, which opened an investigation, but also did not report the abuse to local authorities.

● In August 2016, Michigan State received a separate complaint, the Indianapolis Star ran an expose in September of Nassar’s years of abuse, and the MSU Police obtained a search warrant of Nassar and found masses of child pornography in his possession. Only then did the FBI’s Detroit Office seem to understand Nassar’s crimes, and he was removed from all of his positions and arrested in November 2016. But:

“According to civil court documents, approximately 70 or more young athletes were allegedly sexually abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment between July 2015, when USA Gymnastics first reported allegations about Nassar to the Indianapolis Field Office, and September 2016,” although some had been abused previously.

The report goes on to describe sloppy procedures by Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott (since retired) who:

“[provided] a reporter with an inaccurate statement that claimed, among other things, that ‘there was no delay by the FBI on this matter’ and that the Indianapolis Field Office had provided a ‘detailed report’ to both the FBI Detroit and Los Angeles Field Offices. Further, these inquiries resulted in an official with the Indianapolis Field Office proposing factually inaccurate changes to the white paper created in 2017 that sought to place blame on others for the Indianapolis Field Office’s failures.”

Abbott also met then-USA Gymnastics chief executive Steve Penny in late 2015, at which time they discussed the Chief Security Officer position at the U.S. Olympic Committee (as then named); Abbott applied for the position in 2017, but was not selected. He later denied that he had applied.

In summary:

“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 FBI’s Los Angeles office made some of the same errors.

The report was compiled with interviews of more than 60 people, including survivors, but Penny refused to cooperate in a second voluntary interview and an FBI agent in the Lansing, Michigan office who retired in 2018, declined to be interviewed.

The key question concerning the FBI is why it didn’t act decisively once Penny met with Abbott and others on 28 July 2015? The chronology:

27 June 2015: USA Gymnastics was advised by a coach of abuse against three gymnasts.

03 July 2015: USA Gymnastics engaged an investigator to determine the facts.

25 July 2015: The investigator’s report indicated “an unambiguous claim of sexual abuse” with incidents involving minors as far back as 2011.

28 July 2015: One day after Penny requested a meeting with the FBI, he, a USAG attorney and the USAG Board Chair – Peter Vidmar at that time – met with the FBI Indianapolis Field Office, as “USA Gymnastics decided that the FBI was the most appropriate law enforcement agency to contact because the alleged sexual misconduct potentially occurred in multiple places throughout the United States, as well as in other countries.”

So what happened? The report indicates that nothing happened on the FBI’s end:

● The FBI’s Indianapolis office did not see why it has been asked to assist, since “there did not appear to be clear violations of federal law or a nexus to Indianapolis.”

● FBI officials who attended the 28 July meeting said the USAG officials were instructed to contact local law enforcement as well, but Penny and Vidmar both stated that “that no one from the FBI Indianapolis Field Office told USA Gymnastics to contact local law enforcement.”

● However, on 26 July, Penny had contacted an officer he knew at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s Child Abuse Unit “because Penny wanted to report a child sexual abuse allegation.” The officer stated he contacted the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana by e-mail and the attorney did get in contact with the Indianapolis office of the FBI. But very little happened.

● A series of attempts to arrange interviews with the three gymnasts were made and one gymnast was interviewed by telephone on 2 September. On 4 September, Abbott informed Penny that the case was being transferred to FBI Detroit, which would have jurisdiction over Nassar at his place of work, but not even the results of the interview were forwarded.

Everybody blamed everyone else for the delay. As for the phone interview, the FBI’s confused and incomplete notes were much different than the information obtained by the USAG investigator.

FBI Indianapolis didn’t think it should handle the case, since no crime was alleged there. It contacted the Detroit office (Eastern District of Michigan), but since Lansing was in the jurisdiction of the FBI/Western District of Michigan, it was determined the case should go there.

But nothing happened. Penny’s inquiry with FBI Los Angeles in May of 2016 started a new process, and then came the Indianapolis Star story on Nassar on 12 September 2016 that served as a catalyst in the case being taken seriously. The Los Angeles and Lansing office investigations started in earnest in October 2016.

The report spends 29 pages on the multiple failures of FBI offices in Indianapolis and Los Angeles and specific FBI personnel, including the continuing concern over jurisdictional issues vs. the need for investigation and support of the victims:

“[W]e determined that there were no law enforcement reasons for the Indianapolis Field Office or the Los Angeles Field Office to not promptly notify state and local authorities of the Nassar allegations; to the contrary, we believe that there were strong law enforcement reasons to do so.”

Recommendations are made at the end of the report and a closing response from Assistant Director Douglas Leff stated:

“We accept in full the OIG’s recommendations and take especially seriously the findings that certain FBI employees did not respond to allegations of sexual abuse adequately and with the utmost urgency in 2015 and 2016. At Director Wray’s direction, the FBI has taken immediate action to ensure that the failures of the employees outlined in the Report do not happen again.”

That didn’t help the victims, but the report does clear away the reasons for the FBI’s delay in dealing seriously with the Nassar matter, and allowed him to continue his abuse.

The report may have a minor impact on the continuing court-ordered settlement conference at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana, but does not significantly change the tug-of-war between USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, its insurers and the Survivors’ Committee.

Many years from now, studies of the Nassar case and the failure of law enforcement will be classified in terms of a lack of “quality control.” But that review ignores the more human issues of why criminal abuse of minors was allowed to go on for months after the FBI was apprised of the allegations, and why allegations apparently first surfaced in 2015 when Nassar had already been abusing gymnasts for six or more years before?

No report on that yet.

Rich Perelman

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