The FBI is being asked to pay a total of $130 million to 13 women who say they were sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor Larry Nassar after the law enforcement agency learned of accusations against him and did little in response.
Legal filings Thursday by Michigan-based attorneys on behalf of the women, each of whom is seeking $10 million, made numerous references to a report released in July by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The report found the FBI’s Indianapolis field office heard from USA Gymnastics in July 2015 about Nassar-related allegations, but the relative inaction of agents there led the sports organization to again report Nassar, this time in May 2016 to an FBI field office in Los Angeles. Agents there put more work into the case but, per the report, did not take any action against Nassar or alert local authorities where they had reason to suspect he was committing crimes.
Nassar was eventually arrested and charged in November 2016 by state law enforcement officials in Michigan, where the local FBI field office only learned of the Nassar allegations through news stories and an investigation launched that year by MSU police.
“Despite credible reports to the FBI, Nassar continued his reign of terror for almost 17 unnecessary months,” Jamie White, an attorney for the 13 women, said Thursday. “In large part, Nassar continued to have access to countless girls on almost a daily basis. An unthinkable and unnecessary number of sexual assaults occurred at the hands of Nassar during that period of time.”
White and his firm have not yet filed a lawsuit against the FBI but are using a mechanism to request redress under the Federal Tort Claims Act, in which administrative claims are filed to the federal agency in question, which then has six months to accept or deny them. If a resolution is not reached in that span, White noted, the women could sue for personal injury.
During a media session held online Thursday, White was joined by Grace French, a former dancer and gymnast who was abused by Nassar and went on to help found a group called the Army of Survivors.
“No one should have been assaulted after the summer of 2015, because the FBI should have done its job,” French said. “To know the FBI could have helped to avoid this trauma, it disgusts me and it hurts me.”
“This was not a case involving fake $20 bills or tax cheats,” White said. “These are allegations of a serial rapist who was known to the FBI as the Olympic U.S. doctor, with unfettered access to young women.”
The FBI did not immediately provide comment upon requests Thursday evening. Earlier in the day, the agency addressed media inquiries by referring to remarks made by its director, Christopher Wray, at a September hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Several women with ties to the U.S. national gymnastics team, including Olympic medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, were also at the hearing to testify about their abuse by Nassar and their subsequent ordeals as the scandal unfolded. Wray said to them then: “I’m sorry that so many different people let you down, over and over again. And I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed.”
A legal filing Thursday by White’s team included a quote from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on the day of the hearing: “There were 120 young women who laid before Larry Nassar on his examining table and he did with them whatever he wanted because the FBI did nothing. Let’s be very clear. The FBI’s inaction led to victimization of the most horrific and hideous kind.”
Blumenthal and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., called on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department last month to review the FBI’s handling of the Nassar case and “do more to ensure accountability for the agents who knew of abuse by Nassar, did nothing about it, and then lied about their inaction in violation of their sworn duty and the law.”
The July OIG report found that senior officials in the FBI’s Indianapolis field office “failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that the allegations deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies when undertaking their investigative activity.” It recommended that the agency take measures including clarifying for its agents when they are required to notify pertinent local authorities about allegations of crimes against children.
Nassar, 58, is slated to spend the rest of his life in prison after being given concurrent sentences of 40 to 125 years and 40 to 175 years on state charges of sexual assault, as well as a 60-year term for federal charges related to child pornography. Those legal proceedings took place between 2017 and 2018.
In 2018, Michigan State agreed to pay $500 million to settle lawsuits from more than 300 alleged victims of Nassar. Gymnasts abused by him reached a $380 million settlement this December with USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.