(NewsNation) — Former Olympic gymnasts, including gold medalist Simone Biles, are among dozens of assault victims who are seeking more than $1 billion from the FBI for failing to stop sports doctor Larry Nassar, lawyers said Wednesday.
There’s no dispute that FBI agents in 2015 knew that Nassar was accused of molesting gymnasts, but they failed to act, leaving him free to continue to target young women and girls for more than a year.
“It is time for the FBI to be held accountable,” said Maggie Nichols, a national champion gymnast at Oklahoma in 2017-19.
Under federal law, a government agency has six months to respond to the tort claim. Lawsuits could follow, depending on the FBI’s response. The Justice Department said in May that it would not pursue criminal charges against former FBI agents who failed to quickly open an investigation.
The approximately 90 claimants include Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, all Olympic gold medalists, according to Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, a California law firm.
“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,” said former University of Michigan gymnast Samantha Roy.
Marisa Kwiatkowski, a reporter for USA Today who, while working with the Indianapolis Star, helped break the piece concerning the gymnasts, said she and her colleagues came across the harrowing story while reporting on systemic failures by USA Gymnastics to handle child sexual abuse allegations.
“And it was in the course of that reporting that we learned about the allegations against Larry Nassar, and then later about the FBI’s handling of those allegations. And we knew before we published our first story that there were multiple survivors who had come forward about him,” Kwiatkowski said Wednesday on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.”
“So by the time that we had learned of the allegations, the FBI had learned of them almost a year before. They were not talking about what had happened … (they) had declined our interview requests, and there’s a lot of information, I think still to this day, that we don’t really know about what happened at that time,” she continued.
Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics told local FBI agents in 2015 that three gymnasts said they were assaulted by Nassar, a team doctor. But the FBI did not open a formal investigation or inform federal or state authorities in Michigan, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general, an internal watchdog.
Los Angeles FBI agents in 2016 began a sexual tourism investigation against Nassar and interviewed several victims, but didn’t also alert Michigan authorities, the inspector general said.
“There are allegations that the field office of the FBI in Indianapolis, where United States Gymnastics is also headquartered, that the head of the FBI there was seeking a job at United States Gymnastics and the CEO of the United States Gymnastics and the head of the FBI of that office were working together to cover up these allegations,” said Rachel Fiset, a criminal lawyer, on Wednesday’s “Rush Hour.”
“Not only … were there failures at that level, there (were) failures at the level potentially in both the Michigan FBI office as well as the one in LA. As a result of them sitting on this complaint … over 100 women and girls … were assaulted or the assaults continued from July of 2015 to August of 2016 and that’s the sad part of this,” Mick Grewal, an attorney representing some 40 of the claimants, said Wednesday.
Nassar wasn’t arrested until fall 2016, during an investigation by Michigan State University police. He was a doctor at Michigan State.
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office ultimately handled the assault charges against Nassar, while federal prosecutors in Grand Rapids, Michigan, filed a child pornography case. Nassar is serving decades in prison.
The FBI declined to comment in April when a smaller batch of claims was filed, referring instead to Director Christopher Wray’s remarks to Congress in 2021.
“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. And that’s inexcusable,” Wray told victims at a Senate hearing.
Michigan State University, which was also accused of missing chances over many years to stop Nassar, agreed to pay $500 million to more than 300 women and girls who were assaulted. USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee agreed to a $380 million settlement.
“I think it’s important, whether or not money is included, to hold people accountable for the mistakes that they’ve made, especially when it impacts this many people and when it’s like a child sexual abuse claim,” said Emma Ann Miller, who, at 15 years old, was the youngest woman to speak out at Nassar’s sentencing in 2018.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.