The FBI made a series of critical errors in its handling of sexual abuse allegations against former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who sexually abused female athletes for years, the Department of Justice’s inspector general said in a scathing report released Wednesday. The report said more athletes were abused by Nassar after the FBI became aware of the allegations.
The inspector general accused the FBI of failing to respond to the allegations against Nassar with the “utmost seriousness and urgency” they required. Nassar, who also served as the doctor for a gymnastics club and a high school, has been sentenced to over 100 years in prison for crimes of sexual abuse and child pornography.
The report said the FBI’s Indianapolis field office first learned of the accusations in July 2015 after USA Gymnastics conducted its own internal investigation. But the FBI did not open an investigation in Michigan, where the abuse occurred and where Nassar was still working at Michigan State University, until October 2016. The FBI did not take action until USA Gymnastics filed a new complaint in Los Angeles following months of inactivity in Indianapolis, the report said.
Nassar abused additional athletes after the allegations were first brought to the FBI’s attention, the report said. The inspector general also accused the FBI of failing to “formally document” the initial meeting when the allegations were brought to their attention.
The inspector general also found that the Indianapolis Field Office did not properly handle or document receipt of a thumb drive given to it by USA Gymnastics President Stephen Penny. The report said the thumb drive contained “PowerPoint slides and videos that Nassar had provided to USA Gymnastics of Nassar performing his purported medical technique on athletes.”
The inspector general also accused the FBI of failing to properly document an interview with one of Nassar’s accusers, failing to reach out to other accusers who were known at the time, and not informing other relevant law enforcement agencies of the allegations.
The report claims W. Jay Abbott, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, “made materially false statements” when he was interviewed for the report. The inspector general said Abbott lied about sharing information about the allegations to officials in the FBI’s field offices in Detroit and Los Angeles.
The report said Abbott made similar claims in 2018 after he retired when he told a reporter “there was no delay by the FBI on this matter” when questioned about the inactivity after the allegations against Nassar were first reported. Abbott also falsely told the reporter his office sent a “‘detailed report’ to FBI offices in Detroit and Los Angeles.
The report concluded that Abbott violated FBI policy when he communicated with Penny about a potential job opportunity with the U.S. Olympic Committee while continuing to discuss the Nassar allegations.
The FBI released a statement acknowledging the missteps outlined in the report. “The actions and inactions of certain FBI employees described in the report are inexcusable and a discredit to this organization,” the bureau said.
The watchdog report offered recommendations on how the FBI should revamp its policies to ensure similar mistakes are not made again. These include making it clear when FBI employees should refer allegations to state and local officials and requiring “FBI employees to confirm receipt of transfers between field offices of certain categories of complaints, such as complaints of serious or multi-victim sexual abuse.”