Olympic Committee Alerted to Sex Abuse in Gymnastics Years Ago, Court Filing Says

Olympic Committee Alerted to Sex Abuse in Gymnastics Years Ago, Court Filing Says


The United States Olympic Committee was made aware of sexual abuse in gymnastics more than two decades before the Lawrence G. Nassar molestation scandal shook the sport to its core, according to court documents filed Wednesday in a California federal court.

Kathy Scanlan, the president of U.S.A. Gymnastics from 1994 to 1998, said in a sworn statement last month that she had notified the U.S.O.C. of the sexual abuse problem soon after she took charge of the organization. The U.S.O.C.’s response, she said, was to discourage her from using the federation’s established protocol for investigating and disciplining its professional members who were accused of sexual abuse. She said that she had gone ahead and pursued cases the accused anyway.

“U.S.O.C.’s challenge to U.S.A.G. disciplining professional members in this fashion (specifically impeding the ability to ban, suspend or investigate a member) would have inhibited me from adequately protecting minor members,” Scanlan said in her statement, which was part of hundreds of pages of documents filed Wednesday in a lawsuit that Aly Raisman, the two-time Olympian, has filed. Raisman is suing Nassar, who was the national team doctor; the U.S.O.C.; U.S.A. Gymnastics; and other defendants.

Scanlan’s testimony highlighted the fact that the federation and the U.S.O.C. had battled for years over how to handle sexual abuse cases. That conflict appears to have lasted until at least 1999, when Scanlan’s successor, Bob Colarossi, confronted the U.S.O.C. in a letter that was unsealed in 2017 as part of another sex abuse case in the sport.

Colarossi wrote that the Olympic committee had demonstrated an “apparent indifference to the welfare of young children” and that committee members had repeatedly advised responding to reports of abuse by conducting “bare-bones telephonic hearings immediately upon receipt of a sexual abuse complaint.” Colarossi said that was not enough to protect young athletes.

On Wednesday, Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the U.S.O.C., declined to comment until he had had more time to look into the matter.

Steve Penny, who took over as president and chief executive of the federation after Colarossi left, has also been accused of not doing enough to protect young athletes. He waited five weeks to contact the F.B.I. after learning that gymnasts had complained of Nassar’s inappropriate touching.

Penny, who resigned in March 2017, also worried about the federation’s image as the Nassar case ensued and went out of his way to become close with investigators. Among other things The New York Times reported last month, he had discussed the possibility of a top security job at the U.S.O.C. with an F.B.I. agent who investigated the Nassar case. Nassar is now serving decades in prison on charges of criminal sexual misconduct and possession of child pornography.

An email included in Wednesday’s court filings elaborated on Penny’s efforts on behalf of the agent. In the email to Larry Buendorf, who was then the chief security officer for the U.S.O.C., Penny wrote, “I found a great guy who might be the perfect fit for your role when you decide to leave.”

Buendorf was planning to retire in 2018, and the email was sent in July 2016. That “great guy,” Penny wrote, was Jay Abbott, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s field office in Indianapolis.

When asked about the email, Penny’s lawyer, Edith R. Matthai, said that Penny had done nothing wrong when he discussed the U.S.O.C. job in connection with Abbott and that there had been no conflict of interest.

“This whole idea that something was done to influence something is just insane,” Matthai said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “At the time of the email, Mr. Abbott’s office was no longer involved in the investigation of Nassar because it had been transferred to the U.S. attorney’s office and the F.B.I. in Detroit.”

She called Penny’s mention of the security job to Abbott, and his discussion with Buendorf about it, “ordinary networking that happens in ordinary businesses on a daily basis.”

Penny was arrested last month on a felony charge of evidence tampering in a Texas investigation into Nassar. He is accused of ordering the removal of documents from the national team training center north of Houston, where Nassar often worked and where many of his victims have said they were assaulted. At the time of Penny’s arrest, Texas prosecutors said they did not know where the documents were or if they had been destroyed.

Penny pleaded not guilty, and U.S.A. Gymnastics subsequently said it had found documents at its Indianapolis headquarters that might be the ones removed from the ranch.

In a deposition that was among the documents filed Wednesday, Rhonda Faehn, the former vice president for the federation’s women’s program, said that Amy White, the former national teams manager, told her that she had removed medical records from the training center in November 2016, flown with them to Indianapolis and delivered them to Penny. A deposition from White was included in the documents; she repeatedly asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.



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