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Michigan appeals court to look at Larry Nassar sentencing

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Court of Appeals has agreed to decide whether imprisoned former sports doctor Larry Nassar got an unfair hearing from an outspoken judge who sentenced him to at least 40 years in prison for sexually assaulting young gymnasts.

Lansing-area Judge Rosemarie Aquilina made many provocative remarks during Nassar’s sentencing earlier this year, saying at one point that she had signed his “death warrant.”

Aquilina recently was named Glamour Woman of the Year. And in July, Nassar’s victims honored her during the ESPY awards. Hundreds of women and girls say Nassar molested them with his hands while working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

The appeals court last week rejected an appeal in a 40-year sentence that a different judge ordered for Nassar.

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Senators seek FBI probe of Scott Blackmun, ex-USOC CEO

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U.S. Senators want former USOC CEO Scott Blackmun investigated for potentially lying to Congress regarding the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse crimes.

U.S. Senators Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal said in a joint statement that Blackmun made “materially false statements contained in his written testimony to the [U.S. Senate] subcommittee during the course of the subcommittee’s investigation.”

Blackmun’s statement to the subcommittee in June saying that he spoke to the USOC’s Safe Sport staff after being notified by then-USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny of complaints against Nassar contradicted Ropes & Gray investigation findings published this week that state Blackmun did not speak with Safe Sport at the time, the senators said.

They referred Blackmun to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“The subcommittee takes its oversight role seriously, and it appears that Mr. Blackmun has made false claims and misled our subcommittee — harming the investigation and ability to develop policy,” the senators said in a statement. “Just as importantly, survivors of abuse have had to wait longer for the truth and longer for systemic changes to help prevent others from similar injury.”

Blackmun resigned as USOC CEO on Feb. 28, citing difficulties with prostate cancer and the federation’s need to urgently move forward to address the Nassar sex-abuse crimes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: USOC fires official as Larry Nassar report released

USOC fires official as Larry Nassar report released

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DENVER (AP) — An independent report details a toxic pattern of bureaucratic paralysis among Olympic leaders who reacted slowly, if at all, after they knew Larry Nassar was suspected of molesting young gymnasts.

From the top office at the U.S. Olympic Committee to FBI bureaus in three cities to what was essentially an unchecked, rogue operation at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, nobody stepped in quickly enough to stifle Nassar’s crimes, the report concludes.

That delay ultimately gave Nassar more than a full year to abuse gymnasts after the first allegations surfaced.

The USOC swiftly fired sports performance chief Alan Ashley in the wake of Monday’s release of the 233-page report from the law firm Ropes & Gray. One of its conclusions was that neither Ashley nor Scott Blackmun, who resigned in February as CEO of the USOC, elevated concerns about Nassar’s alleged abuse when they first learned of them from USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny in July 2015.

And an email from Penny notifying Blackmun and Ashley of Nassar’s decision to step down from his volunteer position in September 2015 — after allegations had surfaced but before they’d become widely known — was deleted from both executives’ accounts. The report suggests Blackmun was fearful his email system may have been vulnerable to Russian hacking.

“One thing we’ve learned from this experience is that these types of situations should be escalated,” said Susanne Lyons, a board member who served as acting CEO earlier this year. “Transparency is important.”

The report says the USOC; USAG; Nassar’s employer, Michigan State; and the FBI all failed to protect athletes. The USOC’s failures led to an approximately 14-month period — July 2015 to September 2016 — during which Nassar was allowed to continue to molest girls despite the allegations.

“While Nassar bears ultimate responsibility for his decades-long abuse of girls and young women, he did not operate in a vacuum,” the report says. “Instead, he acted within an ecosystem that facilitated his criminal acts.”

Nassar is serving decades in prison on charges of child pornography and for molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment; many of his accusers testified in heart-wrenching detail at his sentencing hearing in January.

The USOC commissioned the report shortly after the testimony. More than 100 people were interviewed, including some survivors of sexual abuse. But a sizable number of Nassar victims — including 180 being represented by attorney John Manly — refused to participate because Manly didn’t believe the report was completely independent of the USOC.

“That being said, it is a stinging indictment of the highest levels of the leadership of the United States Olympic Committee for their role in the cover-up (of) the largest sex-abuse scandal in the history of sports,” Manly said.

Among the conclusions:

  • Blackmun never reported the allegations to either the USOC board or anyone on his staff. When asked about the Nassar case by chief security officer Larry Buendorf, who had received word separately from Penny, Blackmun told Buendorf he was aware of the issue and did not seek further guidance. Blackmun, who voluntarily answered questions for the report, explained he understood the seriousness of the Nassar allegations but because they involved an “insider” — Nassar was well-respected and had worked with USAG for nearly 30 years — the case was “especially sensitive.”
  • While Penny repeatedly tried to get the FBI to investigate, one of his key objectives was to keep the allegations from spilling into the public, to avoid “sending shockwaves through the community,” as he said in a conversation with an FBI agent. Because of that, very few inside USAG knew the extent of Nassar’s crimes — a factor that curtailed efforts to control him.
  • Despite Penny’s contacts with law enforcement, the report concludes “the investigation appears to have languished … for over seven months” in the FBI’s Detroit office. USAG later took the allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles office, but not until the Indianapolis Star report detailing Nassar’s abuse came out in September 2016 did that office take action.
  • The Texas training center where much of the abuse occurred was run by Bela and Martha Karolyi, whose penchant for churning out gold medalists earned them virtual carte blanche without having to answer to parents, individual coaches, or USAG and USOC authorities. The harsh regimen they imposed left athletes afraid to report injuries and almost completely beholden to Nassar, who “had broad latitude to commit his crimes, far from the gymnasts’ parents and unimpeded by any effective child-protective measures.”

The backdrop of it all was a U.S. Olympic bureaucracy that had grown reluctant to police the sports organizations it oversaw. When Blackmun took over the USOC, its relationships with the national governing bodies (NGBs) were at a low point. He spent years trying to repair the relationships and the USOC “chose to adopt a deferential, service-oriented approach” to NGBs, according to the report.

“In this governance model, the USOC exerted its broad statutory authority and monetary influence over individual sports primarily for the purpose of encouraging success at the Olympic Games, effectively outsourcing any decisions regarding on-the-ground child-protective practices to the NGBs,” the report states.

That, in the minds of many of the survivors, was the most critical shortcoming: In short, the USOC valued medals over the athletes who won them.

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