Gymnasts Biles, Maroney demand justice in botched FBI sex abuse probe

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.
Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS

By Sarah N. Lynch

Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers she feels betrayed by FBI agents, after they failed to investigate former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, despite her telling them he had sexually abused her.

FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate panel that the actions of the agents who botched the investigation are inexcusable, and he announced that one of the agents “no longer works for the bureau in any capacity.”

“I’m deeply and profoundly sorry,” Wray said.

Maroney is one of four athletes, along with Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it probes the FBI’s mishandling of the investigation.

Maroney recalled how in 2015 she spent three hours on the phone telling the FBI the details of her story that her own mother had not even heard, including accounts of sexual abuse she endured during the Olympic games in London by Nassar, whom she described as “more of a pedophile” than he was a doctor.

It was not until July of this year, however, that she said the Justice Department inspector general revealed in a scathing report what the FBI actually did with the information she provided: Failing to document it for a year and a half, and misrepresenting what she told them about her experiences.

“Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney said, with anger in her voice.

Wednesday’s hearing comes after the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz in July issued a scathing report which blasted the FBI for botching its investigation in a series of errors that allowed the abuse to continue for months.

Several of the gymnasts said they were furious that the FBI failed to immediately interview them about the abuse after they had reported it. Once the FBI finally did contact them, they said the agents tried to downplay the severity of the abuse.

“I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn’t that bad,” Raisman said.

“It’s taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter.”

Horowitz also appeared on Wednesday along with Wray.

Horowitz said that the now-fired agent who falsified Maroney’s statement “could have actually jeopardized the criminal investigation by providing false information that could have bolstered Nassar’s defense.”

The FBI declined to name the fired agent, but Senator Richard Blumenthal identified him as Michael Langeman.

Langeman served as a supervisory special agent in Indianapolis, where he led a task force that investigated child sexual exploitation, according to an interview he gave to a local podcast in 2018.

Reuters could not immediately reach Langeman for comment.

The FBI’s investigation into Nassar started in July 2015, after USA Gymnastics President and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office.

That office, then led by Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott, did not formally open an investigation. The FBI only interviewed one witness months later, in September 2015, and failed to formally document that interview in an official report known as a “302” until February 2017 – well after the FBI had arrested Nassar on charges of possessing sexually explicit images of children in December 2016.

When the interview was finally documented in 2017 by an unnamed supervisory special agent, the report was filled with “materially false information and omitted material information,” Horowitz’s report determined.

Abbott, who retired from the FBI in 2018, also violated the FBI’s conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.

As the FBI delayed its probe, Nassar went on to abuse more victims. At one point in Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal asked all four athletes whether they knew of victims who were abused after the July 2015 disclosure to the FBI.

“Yes,” all four of them said.

Neither Abbott nor the other unnamed supervisory special agent who botched the Nassar probe were prosecuted for their actions.

Nassar has been found guilty in three separate cases, with one of the prison sentences running up to 175 years. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls.

Reuters

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