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IG finds FBI failed to "mitigate the threat" Larry Nassar posed, mishandled investigation

Larry Nassar listens to Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina hand down his sentence of 175 years in prison.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio

After receiving reports of sexual abuse of athletes by former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar in July 2015, senior officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Indianapolis field office failed to respond with the "urgency that the allegations required." That's according to an announcement by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Wednesday. The OIG released an investigation and review of the FBI's handling of the case.

The long-awaited watchdog report raises serious questions about how the Justice Department and the FBI handled the case.

It highlights serious missteps at the FBI between the time the allegations were first reported until Nassar's arrest. In a press release, the OIG noted that the FBI Indianapolis field office "made fundamental errors," did not notify other field offices or state or local authorities of the investigations, and did not take other steps to "mitigate the ongoing threat" that Nassar posed.

(Hear from the survivors of Nassar's abuse in Believed, a podcast from Michigan Radio and NPR)

Additionally, the FBI Los Angeles field offices received reports of the same allegations eight months after the FBI Indianapolis office, and while the LA office took "numerous investigative steps" it also failed to notify the FBI Lansing Resident Agency or state or local authorities of the allegations.

During the period when the allegations were first made to the FBI Indianapolis field office in July 2015 and until September 2016, Nassar was still actively treating athletes at Michigan State University, a high school in Michigan, and a gymnastics club in Michigan. It wasn't until after the Michigan State University Police Department executed a search warrant on Nassar's residence in September 2016 that the FBI Lansing Resident Agency became aware of the allegations.

Nassar was eventually sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in December of 2017, after he plead guilty to possession of child pornography and tampering with evidence. He was sentenced to an additional 40 to 175 years in a Michigan state prison in January 2018 in Ingham County after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault against minors, and an additional 40-125 years on additional three counts of sexual assult in Eaton County.

The FBI's handling of the case came under scrutiny from the public and Congress after the case received significant attention in 2017 and 2018, and the OIG found that the FBI Indianapolis field office failed to take responsibility for its inaction and failures. "Instead, they provided incomplete and inaccurate information to make it appear that they had been diligent in responding to the sexual abuse allegations," according to the press release.

The specific findings of the report include:

Officials in the Indianapolis Field Office violated numerous FBI policies in handling the Nassar allegations. Specifically, officials in the Indianapolis Field Office: failed to formally document a July 28, 2015 meeting with USA Gymnastics during which the FBI first received the allegations against Nassar; failed to properly handle and document receipt and review of relevant evidence, i.e., a thumb drive provided by USA Gymnastics President Stephen D. Penny, Jr.; failed to document until February 2017 an interview of a gymnast that was conducted on September 2, 2015, during which the gymnast alleged sexual assault by Nassar; and failed to transfer the Nassar allegations to the FBI Lansing Resident Agency, where venue most likely would have existed for potential federal crimes. Indianapolis Field Office Special Agent in Charge (SAC) W. Jay Abbott and an Indianapolis Field Office Supervisory Special Agent (Indianapolis SSA) made false statements. Abbott violated FBI policy and exercised extremely poor judgment under federal ethics rules when he, without prior authorization, communicated with Penny about a potential job opportunity with the U.S. Olympic Committee, an entity with which Penny had professional connections.

In a statement, the FBI said: 

“As the Inspector General made clear in today’s report, this should not have happened. 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. Prior to today, the FBI initiated improvements to make sure that serious allegations, such as these, are promptly shared with our law enforcement partners and within the FBI. As a continuation of these efforts, the FBI is fully committed to implementing all of the recommendations made by the Inspector General. We will take all necessary steps to ensure that the failures of the employees outlined in the Report do not happen again.”

To see a full timeline of the OIG's findings, head here

You can read the full report here or below.

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The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
Jodi is Michigan Public's Director of Digital Audiences, leading and developing the station’s overall digital strategy.
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