Justice Dept. Reaches $138.7 Million Settlement Over FBI’s Failures in Nassar Case

The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it will pay $138.7 million to resolve 139 complaints filed by young women, including many top gymnasts, over abuse by former USA Gymnastics doctor Lawrence G. .Nassar.

This high-profile settlement, which was expected, stems from the failure of Federal Bureau of Investigation officials to promptly investigate credible allegations that Mr. Nassar sexually assaulted more than 150 women and girls under the guise of examinations and treatments.

This likely marks the end of a years-long effort by gymnasts – including Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman – to achieve some degree of justice and public recognition that the institutions charged with protecting young female athletes have failed to protect them.

While the young women’s lawyers welcomed the deal, they viewed the government’s financial compensation for its initial reluctance to fully investigate Mr. Nassar as a case of too little, too late.

“These women were attacked because of the FBI’s failure and no amount of money will make them whole,” said Mick Grewal, the attorney for 44 of the plaintiffs, including one who committed suicide. “Their goal with all of this was to make sure this never happens again.”

Mr. Grewal said he hoped the agreement would “close the book on this and it will help guide them on the path to healing.”

The outlines of the deal were concluded late last year. Lawyers have spent months determining specific compensation, which varies depending on abuse claims but amounts to about $1 million per woman or girl, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Nassar is serving a 60-year sentence in a federal prison in Florida, where he was stabbed multiple times by an inmate in July. He suffered a collapsed lung but survived his injuries.

For victims like Alexis Hazen, who said she was abused by Mr. Nassar between the ages of 12 and 18, a resolution has been a long time coming. She reported the abuse in 2016 and is now 26, married with three boys.

“I am relieved but disappointed that no one will be held accountable for failing to report the abuse and sweeping it under the rug,” Ms. Hazen said in a telephone interview. “In some ways it helps me get through it, but I always think, wow, if the FBI didn’t protect me, could something like this happen to my kids? And that makes me really, really angry.

“I definitely no longer have confidence in this institution,” she added.

The settlement comes two and a half years after top FBI officials publicly admitted that agents failed to act quickly when U.S. national team athletes complained about Mr. Nassar to the bureau’s Indianapolis field office. in 2015.

Mr. Nassar, known for working with Olympic and college athletes, has been accused of abusing more than 150 women and girls over the years.

“These allegations should have been taken seriously from the start. While these settlements will not undo the harm inflicted by Nassar, we hope they will help provide victims of his crimes with the critical support they need to continue to heal,” said Benjamin C. Mizer, Deputy Assistant Attorney General. interim, who negotiated the settlement.

In 2018, Michigan State University, which employed Mr. Nassar, paid more than $500 million to a victims’ compensation fund, believed to be the largest settlement reached by a university in a criminal case. sexual abuse. Three years later, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee reached a $380 million settlement.

Many girls and women who have reported abuse at the hands of Mr. Nassar have struggled with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and some have attempted to commit suicide.

A 2021 report from the Justice Department’s inspector general found that senior FBI officials in the Indianapolis field office failed to respond to the allegations “with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they merited and demanded” and that the investigation had only started after the news. The media detailed the abuses committed by Mr. Nassar.

FBI officials within the bureau also “made numerous fundamental errors when responding” to the allegations and failed to notify state or local authorities of the allegations or take other steps to address the threat posed by Mr. Nassar, according to the inspector general’s report. .

In heartbreaking testimony two months later, former members of the national gymnastics team described how the FBI turned a blind eye to Mr. Nassar’s abuse while the investigation stalled and children were suffering. Some, including Ms. Raisman, said officers moved slowly to investigate, even after presenting the office with graphic evidence of his actions.

The revelations prompted an extraordinary apology from FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who did not oversee the bureau when the investigation began. “I’m sorry that so many people have failed you again and again, and I’m especially sorry that there are people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster in 2015,” he said. declared.

This settlement is one of several agreements reached by the Justice Department over the past decade.

The others involved victims of mass shootings. The families of 26 people killed in a 2017 shooting at a Texas church received $144.5 million. The 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, led to the Justice Department paying $127.5 million to the families.

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