Simone Biles won four gold medals at the 2016 Olympic Games with a performance that defied both gravity and human imagination. She captured the hearts of millions, the attention of Madison Avenue, and established herself as the rightful heir to retiring Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt as the face of Olympic sports.
Biles stood on the top step of the medal podium in Rio de Janeiro four times, gold medal around her neck, hand over her heart as the American flag was raised and the national anthem played, unaware that for more than a year earlier top officials at USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee as well as the FBI and U.S. Olympic and national team director Martha Karolyi were aware of sexual abuse allegations against longtime Team USA physician Larry Nassar, a man who had treated Biles hundreds of times, and who she would later realize sexually assaulted her.
Since she first learned with the rest of the world of Nassar’s abusive behavior a month after the Rio Games, Biles has gone onto win nine World titles for Team USA all the while still waiting for answers about who at USA Gymnastics, the USOC (since renamed the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee), and the FBI knew about Nassar and what steps, if any, were taken by those organizations to cover up his abuse and conceal it from the athletes he treated and perhaps hundreds of future victims.
“Let’s be clear — they knew Larry Nassar was a child molester and they never told Ms. Biles,” said John Manly, Biles’ attorney. “She didn’t find out until 14 months after they were told and that this had all gone down. Her parents weren’t notified.”
Biles is one of more than 140 survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse who in a court filing Monday asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Indiana to order eight current or former USOPC officials and employees to comply with subpoenas for depositions in Nassar-related civil lawsuits in California and Michigan within 30 days. Attorneys for the women also asked Judge Robyn L. Moberly to require the USOPC to produce documents subpoenaed in those cases within 30 days.
“I think that the fact that Ms. Biles, who is rightfully the star of the Olympic movement, is saying, ‘I want answers,’ I think our country ought to give them to her,” Manly said. “We owe her that.”
USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in December 2018, triggering an automatic stay on all legal proceedings and litigation including discovery. The USOPC is named in several of the civil suits filed against USA Gymnastics.
USA Gymnastics in a February disclosure statement outlined a proposed $217 million settlement agreement asking the more than 500 survivors to accept a deal releasing the USOPC, former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, former U.S. women’s coach Don Peters, former national team directors Bela and Martha Karolyi, 2012 Olympic coach John Geddert and others from “any and all claims arising from or related to Abuse Claims or Future Claims.”
The settlement agreement, however, does not address the extent USA Gymnastics, USOPC and FBI officials were aware of the predatory behavior of Nassar and others and to what steps, if any, they took to conceal that sexual abuse from unknowing potential victims.
“The USOPC seeks to quietly hide in the periphery of this bankruptcy, while receiving a sweeping release and channeling injunction (if the settlement election is agreed to by half of the claimants), without contributing a cent of its own money to settlement and also without disclosing any facts whatsoever related to its liabilities; all the while, relying upon a one-sided distortion of its exposure, as described in the Disclosure Statement,” survivors attorneys said in Monday’s motion.
“The reason why these cases exist in the first place is because these institutions—including the USOPC — operated under a veil of secrecy and lack transparency that allowed sexual assault to fester. It seems that the USOPC has learned nothing, hopes to change nothing, and seeks a free pass from the Court in return for multiple press releases containing platitudes yet no substantive change. At a minimum, if these Survivors are going to release all rights to recover against the USOPC, they must be given some insight into the USOPC’s institutional knowledge of abuse and exposure, sufficient to inform their decision.”
The depositions are needed, attorneys for the survivors maintain, to provide the women with an accurate account of the USOPC’s finances before signing off an agreement that releases the organization from financial and legal liability.
The depositions would also shine new light on why Michigan State was not contacted USOPC officials, along with USA Gymnastics and FBI officials, after they were presented with allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar by multiple gymnasts in the summer of 2015.
Mitchell A. Kamin, an attorney for the USOPC, argued in a telephonic court hearing last week the organization did not have a responsibility to alert authorities at Michigan State after top USOPC officials were made aware of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar in 2015, a year before the allegations became public. Nassar continued to treat young athletes at Michigan State’s sport medicine clinic until September 2016.
Nassar, according to court documents, sexually abused at least 40 young athletes between Penny’s first contact with the USOPC and the FBI agent in charge of the bureau’s Indianapolis office in July 2015 and September 2016, when Nassar’s abuse became public. The number of victims in that window could actually surpass 100, according to persons familiar with dozens of Nassar-related lawsuits.
“The USOC’s (legal) position is directly contrary to their public position,” Manly said. “Let’s be clear what they’re saying is they don’t have any duty to tell the victims if they know someone’s a child molester. That’s what they’re saying — that even though they knew Larry Nassar was a child molester they didn’t have to tell anybody and they could allow him to serially molest hundreds of little girls after they knew.
“That’s an amazing position for a federally chartered corporation in charge of the Olympics to take. I hope that the public, media and Congress read this and understand the position they’re taking because it’s clear that if they actually believe that the leadership of the USOC is completely morally bankrupt, the whole thing needs to go.”
The USOPC said in a statement to the Southern California News Group “Counsel’s comments are a mischaracterization, which a review of the transcript demonstrates. But we simply are not going to litigate this in the press.
“As the leader of the Olympic Movement in the United States, the USOPC’s focus is on better serving athletes,” the statement continued. “We have worked closely with athletes to enact far-reaching reforms in governance, athlete engagement, and programs to promote athlete safety. This includes instituting new leadership, elevating athlete voices in our organization and on our board, commissioning an independent investigation, increasing support for the U.S. Center for SafeSport … among many other measures.
“We also believe in fair resolution of the claims of the victims and survivors, with whom we have deep empathy and respect. For that reason we have participated in the mediation for nearly a year.”
SCNG asked the USOPC specifically if the organization supported Kamin’s assertion that the organization had no legal obligation to alert officials at Michigan State after former USOPC CEO Scott Blackmun, then USOC chief of sport performance Alan Ashley and others were made aware of allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar in the summer of 2015.
“The question of legal responsibility is a separate issue and one for the courts,” the USOPC said in a statement.
The survivors’ attorneys are seeking to depose Blackmun, former USOPC board chairman Larry Probst, current board chair Susanne Lyons, Rick Adams, Ashley, the former USOPC sport performance chief, film producer Frank Marshall, a former USOPC and USA Gymnastics board member, William Moreau, former USOPC chief medical officer, and Morane Kerek, USOPC chief financial officer.
An investigation commissioned by the USOPC found that that Blackmun and Ashley were first notified by Penny of allegations against Nassar in July 2015. Yet neither Blackmun or Ashley took action or reported it to USOC board members, the report said.
Blackmun received a $2.4 million buy-out from the USOPC after he was forced to resign in 2018 amid allegations he was involved in the cover-up of sexual abuse by Nassar, according to financial documents. Blackmun was referred to the Department of Justice and FBI in December 2018 for criminal investigation by two U.S. Senators who accused him of making false statements and misleading Congress. Ashley was fired in December 2018 after the findings of the USOPC commissioned investigation were released.
Alex Cunny, an attorney for the survivors, served notice on the subpoenas for the USOPC depositions and documents last month. Attorneys for the USOPC then filed a motion for a protective order limiting discovery.
In a hearing June 8 initiated by USOPC attorneys, Kamin argued that survivors attorneys had already conducted depositions of USOPC officials and employees in the California lawsuits prior to the Chapter 11 triggered stay.
“But every single one of those depositions extensively covered every issue related to Larry Nassar including what knowledge the USOPC had regarding Nassar, the extent of USOPC’s contacts with Nassar, what medical services were provided to gymnasts at the Olympic Games, Nassar’s relationship with the USOPC, communication between USOPC and USAG related to Nassar,” Kamin said during the hearing. “So there was nothing withheld on those topics in these depositions even though they were by court order limited to jurisdictional issues.”
In fact Blackmun, Lyons and Adams were not deposed in the California cases. Blackmun was served with a deposition subpoena in 2018 but his attorneys requested a delay citing a “recent medical issue.” Survivors’ attorneys agreed to the delay which was put on further hold by the stay.
The bankruptcy court has already ordered a Kerek deposition in conjunction with updated audited financial records for the USOPC.
USOPC officials and employees during the California depositions were instructed by their attorneys not to answer questions unrelated jurisdictional issues, according to court filings and other documents related to the suits.
Adams in his September 2018 deposition was instructed more than 60 times by USOPC attorneys not to answer questions, according to court filings. USOPC attorneys told Probst not to answer “well-over 100 questions” in his October 26, 2018 deposition. Marshall’s November 20, 2018 deposition “was littered by instructions from counsel not to answer questions related to liability,” according court documents.
“The USOPC seeks to quietly hide in the periphery of this bankruptcy, in hopes that enough of the Abuse Claimants grow tired of this process and concede to the Settlement Election, resulting in broad releases and a channeling injunction without the USOPC contributing a cent of its own money to settlement and also without disclosing any facts whatsoever related to its liabilities; all the while, relying upon a one-sided distortion of the viability of the claims of the Survivors in the Disclosure Statement,” survivors’ attorneys maintained in Monday’s filing.
“The reason why these cases exist in the first place is because these institutions—including the USOPC—operated under a veil of secrecy and lack transparency that allowed sexual assault to fester. It seems that the USOPC has learned nothing, hopes to change nothing, and continues to evade the Survivors efforts to hold it accountable for its contributory actions that resulted in the horrendous sexual abuse suffered by so many all while hoping to obtain a free pass from the Court in return for multiple press releases containing platitudes yet no substantive change. At a minimum, for the Survivors to even consider the Settlement Election that results in a release of all rights to recover against the USOPC, they must be given some insight into the USOPC’s institutional knowledge of abuse and exposure, sufficient to inform their decision.
“Despite an inadequate disclosure of information necessary to evaluate the claims, the USOPC has the audacity to claim that “[a]lthough technically limited to jurisdictional issues, the USOPC witnesses’ prior testimony fully explored all Nassar-related issues, which are the core evidentiary questions relevant to the vast majority of Claimants in this matter…” This claim is a fabrication, misrepresentation, and violation of the USOPC’s duty of candor to this Court. In fact, as counsel for the USOPC fully knows (as it is the very same counsel who litigated those underlying claims in state court), the USOPC did everything in its power, during that abbreviated discovery, to limit discovery in those matters to solely personal jurisdictional issues. During the process, the USOPC stonewalled the Survivors as to any and all liability discovery, which it took steps to prevent at every turn. This is well documented in a legion of emails and deposition transcripts that were not disclosed to this Court, by the USOPC, in its Protective Order Motion. In order for this Court to have a full picture of this issue, the Survivors have disclosed those emails and transcripts herein for this Court’s edification.”