Watchdog faults FBI response to Larry Nassar abuse allegations

Watchdog faults FBI response to Larry Nassar abuse allegations

The FBI’s Indianapolis office failed to respond to allegations of abuse by disgraced USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar with the seriousness and urgency required, a federal watchdog says.

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a highly anticipated report released Wednesday that FBI officials failed to quickly address the allegations, despite the possibility of the alleged abuse continuing.

The FBI and local authorities were delayed more than a year in starting their investigations into Nassar due to failures detailed in the report, the watchdog stated.

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“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,” the watchdog stated.

According to the inspector general, when the FBI field office did respond it made “numerous and fundamental errors" and "violated multiple FBI policies,” the report stated.

The report stated that "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 the Nassar allegations to the FBI, and August 2016, when the [Michigan State University Police Department] received a separate complaint of sexual abuse by Nassar."

Among the findings, the watchdog found that the FBI field office didn’t properly handle a July 2015 meeting during which USA Gymnastics first raised concerns about Nassar. The OIG also found that it didn’t properly document an interview conducted months later with one of Nassar’s alleged victims. 

When the office determined in September 2015 that the FBI’s Lansing residence office likely had the best jurisdiction, the watchdog found that the Indianapolis field office didn’t transfer the case despite saying it did.

The report also mentions that W. Jay Abbott, who was in charge of the Indianapolis field office, discussed getting a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2015 while his office was investigating the Nassar allegations. Abbott denied to the inspector general that he applied for the job. 

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The IndyStar first reported the job discussion in 2017.

The report also addresses how the FBI’s field office in Los Angeles handled its investigation in 2016. USA Gymnastics later brought the allegations to the L.A. office after months of inaction in Indianapolis.

The inspector general also found the L.A. office also did a lackluster job by not reaching out to local authorities or mitigating the risk that Nassar posed.

It wasn’t until August 2016, when news reports emerged of Nassar’s alleged abuse and activity by police at Michigan State University, where Nassar worked as a sports doctor, that the FBI’s Lansing resident office first learned of the allegations and opened an investigation, the report states.

That office discovered 30,000 images of child pornography on devices seized from Nassar’s home. 

Nassar was charged with federal child pornography charges and sexual abuse charges in Michigan in 2016, and was sentenced in 2018 to 40 to 175 years in prison.