The FBI mishandled allegations of sexual abuse against the now-convicted sex offender former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar, a Justice Department watchdog concluded.
Nassar, the main doctor for Olympic gymnasts, was sentenced to 60 years in prison in 2017 on federal charges of possessing child sex abuse material. He was named in hundreds of lawsuits filed by female athletes who said that Nassar sexually abused them when he worked for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnastics. In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years and up to 125 years in two separate Michigan courts on sexual abuse charges.
FBI officials made "numerous and fundamental errors" and violated multiple FBI policies in dealing with the allegations. They also failed to alert state or local authorities about the allegations, or to take other steps to stop the ongoing threat by Nassar, according to the report.
Two FBI officials lied during their interviews to cover up or minimize their errors, one of whom is an unnamed supervisory special agent, and another is identified as former special agent W. Jay Abbott, who retired in January 2018, Horowitz stated in his report.
According to the report, Abbott also made false statements to the FBI and the media in 2017 and 2018 about how his office handled the Nassar case, and he violated the FBI's conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.
Allegations against Nassar were first reported to the FBI Indianapolis Field Office in July 2015 by Stephen Penny, president of USA Gymnastics at the time.
Agents at the field office conducted "limited follow-up" and failed to formally document any of their investigative activity, the IG report stated. Among the missteps, five weeks passed before FBI agents interviewed one of the victims, and they failed to interview the other two victims despite being told they were available to meet. They also failed to transfer the case to the FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency, as recommended by the Indianapolis assistant U.S. attorney.
After eight months of FBI inactivity, USA Gymnastics in May 2016 reported the same allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, which "opened a federal sexual tourism investigation against Nassar and undertook numerous investigative steps, including interviewing several of Nassar’s alleged victims." However, like the Indianapolis Field Office, it didn't reach out to any state or local authorities, and didn't do anything to stop further threats by Nassar.
The Michigan State University Police Department (MSUPD) later received a separate complaint from a gymnast alleging sexual abuse by Nassar in August 2016. The department found child pornography in Nassar's residence after carrying out a search warrant in September 2016.
Horowitz noted, citing civil court documents, that from July 2015 to August 2016, "approximately 70 or more young athletes were allegedly sexually abused by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment."
The FBI's Lansing Resident Agency ultimately learned of the allegations via the press and MSUPD investigative activity, and opened a formal investigation into the matter in October 2016. The office ultimately found more than 30,000 images of child pornography on the devices the MSUPD had seized from Nassar's residence.
In a statement responding to the report, the FBI said the behavior by some of its employees was "inexcusable and a discredit to this organization." Douglas Leff, the FBI assistant director, said in the statement that Abbott's conduct was "particularly troubling" and "is not representative of the FBI or of our tens of thousands of retirees and current employees."
He added that the supervisory special agent at the Indianapolis Field Office who wasn't named in the report is no longer a supervisor, and that "upon learning that the OIG determined that the individual made false statements and mishandled the allegations of sexual abuse, the FBI took immediate action to ensure that the individual is not working on FBI matters," pending the completion of an internal FBI investigation.