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Nassar sexual abuse case: Why are Simone Biles and others demanding $1 billion from the FBI?

Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman are among almost 100 sportswomen who say they were sexually abused by ex-US Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols arrive to testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing about the Inspector General's report on the FBI handling of the Larry Nassar investigation of sexual abuse of Olympic gymnasts, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 15, 2021. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

US Olympic team gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman head a group of 90 young women who filed for compensation under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), for the FBI’s mishandling of its investigation into sexual abuse by former US Olympic team physician Larry Nassar.

Nassar, now aged 58, was employed as the USA Gymnastics (USAG) National Medical Coordinator from the mid-90s to 2016. In 2015, the USAG conducted an internal investigation, acting on allegations of sexual assault by Nasser on multiple gymnasts - many of whom were minors at the time. The findings of that investigation were handed over to the FBI by USAG President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Penny with three of the victims agreeing to be interviewed and give evidence.

Larry Nassar, appears in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, US, February 5, 2018.  REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo
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Larry Nassar, appears in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, US, February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File PhotoREBECCA COOKREUTERS

Case not transferred to Detroit

In September 2015, the Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) advised the Indianapolis Field Office to transfer the case to the FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency in Michigan - but the paperwork never reached Detroit. Eight months later, in May 2016, the USAG contacted the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office to report the same allegations against Nassar. Due to a bureaucratic mix-up between different local authorities, the original FBI complaint form (FD-71) could not be found on the organization’s computer system.

In August 2016, the Michigan State University Police Department (MSUPD) received a separate complaint from a gymnast who stated that she had been sexually assaulted by Nassar when she was 16 years old. An article detailing those allegations was published a couple of weeks later by The Indianapolis Star which prompted dozens of other young women to come forward to affirm that they too had been abused by Nassar.

Catalogue of errors

The FBI’s Lansing Resident Agency, who could have and should have been informed of the case over a year earlier, launched their own investigation in October 2016, and discovered over 37,000 child pornography images saved on hard drives seized by the MSUPD during its search of Nassar’s home in Holt, Michigan.

Nassar was arrested and charged by the Michigan Attorney General in November 2016 with multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct relating to the allegations in an interview which one gymnast had given over a year earlier. But there were discrepancies with those statements due to negligence by FBI officers supposedly handling the case.

FBI failed to respond quickly to serious claims

The Office of Inspector General found the FBI failed to respond to the initial allegations and made “numerous and fundamental errors when they did”. For some unknown reason, FBI Indianapolis agents did not interview the other two gymnasts despite being told that both women were available to meet and collaborate with FBI investigators.

When the FBI’s handling of the Nassar case eventually reached the public eye after being highlighted in media reports and in Congress, Indianapolis officials did not take responsibility for their failures but instead, gave incomplete and inaccurate information in response to FBI internal inquiries

Many of the claimants who have filed for compensation say that they were sexually abused by Nassar after he had been reported to the FBI in 2015, but due to a combination of negligence, incompetence and crossed wires between local authorities, no action was taken and Nasser was left free to continue his abuse for almost two years.

Former University of Michigan gymnast Samantha Roy said, “If the FBI had simply done its job, Nassar would have been stopped before he ever had the chance to abuse hundreds of girls, including me”.

The FBI has six months to respond to the claims but there is a possibility that lawsuits could follow...