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Report Finds Failure in FBI Response to Child Abuse Related to Convicted Gymnastics Doctor

The U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General found that the FBI failed in its investigation of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who in 2018 received a prison sentence of up to 175 years, partly for child abuse and sexual assault.  

The 119-page report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz, published on 14 July 2021, determined that the FBI’s Indianapolis field office did not quickly respond to allegations against Nassar from USA Gymnastics, allowing Nassar more than eight months to potentially assault more girls. USA Gymnastics had reported several allegations to the FBI in July 2015, following an internal review of Nassar. 

After receiving the allegations from USA Gymnastics, agents waited for about five weeks to even conduct an initial interview with one of the victims and then did not prepare a formal report on the interview until February 2017. They also failed to interview two other victims who reported instances of abuse from Nassar.  

The February 2017 report only came after Nassar was already arrested on other state and federal charges, including possession of child pornography. The report on the 2015 interview was not only drafted 17 months after the interview but also “contained materially false statements and omitted material information,” according to a statement from the Office of the Inspector General.  

According to BBC News, the “scathing assessment” highlighting how federal agents, notably now-retired special agent in charge Jay Abbott, lied about their conduct to try to cover up their mistakes.  

At the time of the investigation, Abbott was also seeking a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee and discussed the case with USA Gymnastics’ president at the time. “Horowitz’s office concluded that in addition to violating the FBI’s conflict-of-interest policy, after Abbott’s job-seeking came to light, he lied to investigators about it,” Politico reported 

Abbott retired from the bureau in January 2018, roughly one month after Nassar submitted a guilty plea to the child pornography charges. He has not responded to requests for comment from various outlets except through his lawyer. The Justice Department said it would not prosecute Abbott or the other agent who lied about their actions during the investigation.  

“In 2016, USA Gymnastics officials brought the same allegations against Nassar to the FBI office in Los Angeles, and again the case went nowhere,” The Washington Post reported. “The inspector general found that although FBI agents in Los Angeles pursued the issue more aggressively, they were unsure whether Nassar had broken any federal laws.” 

The report made four recommendations for improving the FBI’s protocols in addressing and reporting allegations of child abuse to local authorities. These recommendations, along with the rest of the report, can be read here. 

The FBI released a statement in response to the IG’s report, saying they accepted the findings and recommendations. According to The New York Timesthese changes will ensure that “similar abuse allegations would be shared promptly within the bureau and with other law enforcement agencies.” 

Nassar was ultimately accused by hundreds of women and girls from USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University of sexual abuse, including Olympic-level athletes. The abuse was often disguised as medical treatment.