89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

DOJ settles with Nassar victims


The Department of Justice has reached a nearly $139 million settlement with more than a hundred people who were sexually abused by former USA Olympic Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. The FBI received allegations about Nassar in 2015 but failed to properly investigate, and the abuse continued for another year. Michigan Public's Kate Wells reports. And a note of caution - this story includes description of an assault.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Nine years ago, the then-head of USA Gymnastics went to the FBI's field office in Indianapolis, where USA Gymnastics is headquartered. He told them about three young gymnasts who said Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment. One of them was Olympian McKayla Maroney. During a Senate hearing three years ago, she testified about the phone interview that she had with the FBI in 2015. It was graphic testimony. She told agents that Nassar would digitally penetrate her during so-called treatments and how he gave her a sleeping pill before a competition in Tokyo.


MCKAYLA MARONEY: That evening, I was naked, completely alone, with him on top of me, molesting me for hours. I told them I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way that he would let me go. But he did.

WELLS: Maroney said she sat on her bedroom floor for hours, telling the FBI things that she hadn't even told her mom.


MARONEY: I began crying at the memory over the phone, and there was just dead silence. I was so shocked at the agent's silence and disregard for my trauma. After that minute of silence, he asked, is that all? Those words in itself was one of the worst moments of this entire process for me.

WELLS: But the FBI agents in Indianapolis didn't interview the other athletes who'd reported abuse. They didn't alert police in Michigan, and one of the agents later tried to get a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee. USA Gymnastics allowed Nassar to quietly retire from his role as team doctor in 2015, but he kept working as a sports doctor at Michigan State University for another year. After months of FBI inaction, USA Gymnastics officials went to the FBI again - this time in Los Angeles. Those agents did start investigating, but they didn't alert local authorities in Michigan.

Nassar was finally arrested in 2016 by Michigan State University Police, who were doing their own investigation into separate complaints. But by then, a whole year had gone by since the FBI was first alerted to this case - a year in which about a hundred patients and athletes say they were abused by Nassar. In 2021, FBI director Christopher Wray issued them an apology.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY: And 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 is inexcusable. It never should have happened, and we're doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.

WELLS: In a statement announcing the settlement, the Department of Justice said, while these settlements won't undo the harm Nassar inflicted, our hope is that they will give the victims of his crimes some of the critical support they need to continue healing. An attorney representing several Olympic athletes and dozens of others also issued a statement on Tuesday. It said, this settlement with the Department of Justice will, quote, "resolve" the last remaining legal claims against the state and federal institutions who failed to protect more than 500 girls and women from Nassar and bring their total liability to almost $1 billion. Nassar is serving an effective life sentence after pleading guilty to multiple counts of sexual misconduct. For NPR News, I'm Kate Wells in Michigan.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILLIE EILISH SONG, "YOUR POWER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kate Wells
Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."