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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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Steve Penny, ex-USA Gymnastics president, arrested on charge of tampering with Larry Nassar evidence

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HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny was arrested Wednesday after a Texas grand jury indicted him, alleging he tampered with evidence in the sexual assault investigation of now-imprisoned gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

In a statement issued late Wednesday night, the Walker County district attorney’s office in Huntsville, Texas, said Penny was arrested by a fugitive task force in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and awaits extradition to Texas.

The third-degree felony is punishable by two to 10 years in prison. It was unclear if Penny has an attorney. Messages left with USA Gymnastics weren’t immediately returned.

Penny resigned under pressure in March 2017.

The indictment alleges Penny ordered the removal of documents from the Karolyi Ranch relating to Nassar’s activities at the ranch, near Huntsville. It alleges Penny acted after learning that Texas Rangers and Walker County authorities were investigating the ranch, which was being managed by USA Gymnastics.

The indictment states the documents were delivered to Penny at the USA Gymnastics headquarters in Indianapolis, they have not been recovered and their whereabouts are unknown to authorities.

Penny was arrested arrested when a team of armed Marshalls arrived at a Tennessee vacation cabin while he was sitting with his wife and three children.

“When he went to Tennessee on a vacation with his family, Mr. Penny had no knowledge there had been an indictment in Texas,” his lawyers said in a statement. “Mr. Penny is confident that when all the facts are known it will be shown that he did nothing criminal.”

Nassar was charged in June with sexually assaulting six minors in Walker County. A former sports medicine trainer, Debra Van Horn, was also indicted on one count of second-degree sexual assault of a child. Prosecutors said Van Horn was charged as “acting as a party” with Nassar.

In Michigan, Nassar was sentenced earlier this year to decades in prison, after hundreds of women and girls accused him of molesting them with his hands under the guise of medical treatment. They said the abuse went as far back as the 1990s while he worked at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

Nassar was a former team doctor for both the women’s program at USA Gymnastics as well as Michigan State University athletics.

In Texas, a number of gymnasts who had trained at the Karolyi Ranch have said Nassar sexually assaulted them there. Walker County prosecutors have said there is no corroborated evidence of wrongdoing by world-renowned gymnastics coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, and the couple has denied wrongdoing.

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Ex-USA Gymnastics CEO refuses to answer questions on sex abuse scandal

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The former president of USA Gymnastics refused to answer questions Tuesday from a Senate subcommittee about how he handled allegations of sexual abuse by former team doctor Larry Nassar, and another former executive sat next to him and asserted that he instructed her and others to keep quiet after she informed him of athletes’ claims.

Rhonda Faehn, the former senior vice president of USA Gymnastics, said she first reported an allegation against Nassar to Steve Penny, her then-boss, on June 17, 2015.

Nassar was not arrested until more than a year later. He is now serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography, and hundreds of athletes have said they were abused by him, including Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles.

The revelations about Nassar’s conduct over two decades and the way it was handled by Penny and others have led Congress to call for drastic reforms of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and other sports’ governing bodies.

Faehn said Penny warned her and others not to discuss the allegations against Nassar and that she wrongly assumed he had taken the allegations to law enforcement.

“He told me not to say anything or do anything because he was going to handle everything going forward,” Faehn said in her written testimony, “and he told me he was going to report the concerns to proper authorities, which I assumed included law enforcement.”

Faehn reiterated those claims as Penny, who was forced out as president of USA Gymnastics last year, sat silently next to her. When it was his turn to speak, he didn’t say much.

Penny invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination six times before he was excused by the panel.

As he slowly limped out of the hearing room, former gymnast Amy Moran shouted “Shame!” in his direction. Moran alleges she was abused by her former coach and reported it to Penny, and she was unsatisfied with Penny’s response to the allegations, which she now sees as a precursor to how he handled the Nassar case.

Testimonies: Martha Karolyi | Scott Blackmun | Lou Anna Simon | Rhonda Faehn

Penny was subpoenaed to appear before the committee. Senators questioned him on when he found out about the abuse allegations and why he waited to inform law enforcement or Nassar’s employer, Michigan State University.

Asked why he waited to contact law enforcement about Nassar, Penny said: “I would like to answer your question. However, I have been instructed by my attorney to assert my rights under the Fifth Amendment. … I respectfully decline to answer your question.”

Penny has been named as a defendant in a number of lawsuits by athletes who were victimized by Nassar.

“He is repulsed by Larry Nassar’s crimes, and he feels nothing but compassion for the victims of those crimes,” Penny’s attorney, Robert Bittman, said in a statement. “Mr. Penny declined to testify before the subcommittee while the matters that attempt to wrongly shift blame for Nassar’s crimes remain open.”

Faehn broke into tears as she described the actions she took in an effort to protect Nassar’s victims. But victims who attended the hearing said they were disappointed she didn’t do more.

“You just see all these little people thinking they did their thing, but no one took the one step that should have been taken, which is go to the police, or the authorities. The one thing one person could have done is do that. No one did that,” said former gymnast Emily Stebbins, who alleges she was abused by Nassar the first time he examined her as a teenager.

“You see what Steve Penny did with the information,” Stebbins said of Faehn. “What should you have done further when you saw no action was being taken?”

Faehn also said she was fired last month immediately after she informed current USA Gymnastics president Kerry Perry that she was willing to testify before the committee and that she likely would be subpoenaed if she refused.

USA Gymnastics representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the circumstances of Faehn’s firing.

Former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon also appeared Tuesday under subpoena, although she said she was willing to testify and was compelled by subpoena only because her attorney had a scheduling conflict.

“I am horrified that Nassar’s crimes happened during my tenure,” Simon said. “Had I known that Nassar was sexually abusing young women, I would have taken immediate action to prevent him from preying on additional victims.”

The subcommittee chairman, Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, and other senators pledged to continue their work toward reform of U.S. Olympic sports’ governing bodies.

“Apologies are not enough,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat. “We have to honor these survivors with real action.”

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