Justice Department settles with Larry Nassar victims for $138.7 million

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The Justice Department announced Tuesday it has agreed to pay nearly $139 million to victims of former Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, settling legal claims brought over the department’s failure to investigate allegations that could have brought the convicted child molester to justice sooner and prevented dozens of assaults.

One of the largest of its kind in Justice Department history, the settlement brings to a close the last major legal case in an ugly chapter of Olympic sports in this country. Nassar’s prolific abuses occurred over a span of decades at international events including the Olympics, as well as at Michigan State University, where Nassar worked, and local gymnastics centers in Michigan and around the country.

Once well respected in elite gymnastics circles for his association with Team USA, Nassar committed hundreds of alleged assaults over the years, often under the guise of medical treatment. Members of multiple U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams have alleged abuse by Nassar, including Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.

Nassar, 60, is serving an effective life sentence for federal convictions relating to possession of child pornography, as well as state convictions for sexual assaults of patients under his care.

A 2021 Justice Department inspector general’s report found that FBI agents in the Indianapolis and Los Angeles field offices failed to adequately respond to allegations against Nassar raised in 2015 and 2016.

In Indianapolis, the report found, one top FBI official overseeing the investigation also was applying for a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee at the time, and later lied to the inspector general’s office about the situation. In Los Angeles, the report found, agents failed to alert local authorities in any of the places where Nassar continued to treat young gymnasts while he was under investigation.

More than 70 girls and women later alleged in court filings that Nassar assaulted them between 2015 and when he was arrested in November 2016.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray publicly apologized to Nassar’s victims, and the bureau fired an agent in the Indianapolis office involved with the case.

In a news release Tuesday, the department said it had agreed to pay $138.7 million to resolve 139 legal claims over its handling of the Nassar case.

“For decades, Lawrence Nassar abused his position, betraying the trust of those under his care and medical supervision while skirting accountability,” acting associate attorney general Benjamin C. Mizer said in a statement. “These allegations should have been taken seriously from the outset. While these settlements won’t undo the harm Nassar inflicted, our hope is that they will help give the victims of his crimes some of the critical support they need to continue healing.”

Tuesday’s announcement brings the total sum paid out by institutions to Nassar’s victims over his abuses to more than $1 billion. In 2018, Michigan State agreed to pay $500 million to more than 330 victims. And in 2021, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee agreed to pay $380 million to hundreds of Nassar’s victims.

John Manly, attorney for more than 100 of the women involved with the Justice Department settlement, said in an interview that the settlement will bring closure to his clients but still falls short of the criminal charges they wanted to see against the agents involved.

“For many of these families, knowing that the premier law enforcement agency in the U.S. knew their child was being treated by a child molester and did nothing for the better part of two years will always trouble them,” Manly said.

In 2021, after victims including Biles and Maroney offered emotionally wrenching testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department agreed to review its decision to not criminally charge two FBI agents from the Indianapolis office accused by the inspector general of making false statements. But the review concluded with the department again deciding not to charge the agents.

The Justice Department previously has agreed to pay similar sums to victims of mass shootings where federal agencies faced accusations of negligence.

Last year, the Justice Department agreed to pay $144.5 million to the families of 26 people killed in a 2017 mass shooting in Texas, resolving allegations of failures involving the federal government’s gun background check system. In 2021, the department struck a $130 million settlement with 40 survivors and families of a 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., over accusations the FBI failed to investigate tips that preceded the massacre.

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