No cover-up, says former official

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“You literally only had one job,” said Biles, the sport’s most decorated female athlete, “and you couldn’t protect us.”

Three years later, those words still resonate with Steve Penny, CEO of the federation from 2005 to 2017 and at one time one of the most powerful figures in American Olympic sports.

Penny, 58, learned last week that he would not be prosecuted in Walker County for tampering with evidence stemming from Nassar’s abuse of young women, including Biles, at boot camp run by Bela and Martha Karolyi in the Sam Houston National Forest.

Prosecutors said an opinion from the 2020 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in an unrelated case led them to dismiss the third-degree felony indictment returned by a Huntsville grand jury in 2018.

Penny, in her first public comments since the case was dropped, cited Biles’ comments in 2019 and the FBI’s failure to bring Nassar to justice after submitting evidence against the team doctor to agents of the FBI in Indianapolis in 2015 and in Los Angeles in 2016.

“I have enormous respect for Simone and her family,” he said. “I felt his statements were meaningful and reflected the pain felt by many.”

“Larry Nassar’s actions were deplorable and betrayed everyone’s trust in sport, especially athletes and their parents, coaches and staff. The women’s program recruited him as medical director and held him in high regard. He has often been recognized for his impact on the team, and it shocks me that no one has come forward sooner.

“I’m sorry he was ever involved with USA Gymnastics.”

Nassar now serving the equivalent of a life sentence for state and federal charges and settlements reached between Nassar survivors and USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Michigan State University , the case in recent weeks has focused on FBI failures, which were detailed in a scathing July 2021 report from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Last week, attorneys for 13 women Nassar assaulted filed a $130 million lawsuit against the FBI, citing the agents’ failure to adequately investigate or escalate the allegations against Nassar to officials in Michigan, where Nassar continued to assault young athletes after being fired from USA Gymnastics in 2015.

“I was preparing for the FBI to take action against Dr. Nassar at any time after we exposed him in 2015,” Penny said. “I communicated as much as necessary to make this happen, answering all questions and following up as requested.”

“There were a few meeting opportunities that never materialized. Among them, (2012 gold medalist McKayla) Maroney was supposed to go to Indianapolis to meet with them, and they said, “Oh, we spoke to McKayla on the phone and it’s now over. She does not enter.

“It shocked and surprised me. I took this matter seriously and was trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. Our goal was to get Nassar out of there as quickly as possible and help the FBI.

Michigan officials estimated that failure to inform Michigan officials of the allegations against Nassar allowed him to abuse an additional 70 to 120 patients before his arrest.

“It’s the FBI’s job to notify local authorities and other entities that may need to be contacted,” Penny said. “One of their major flaws was that they never informed people in the local jurisdictions.”

The Justice Department report also noted that in the fall of 2015, Penny met with Jay Abbott, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Bureau in Indianapolis, during which they discussed interest in Abbott for a security position at the United States Olympic Committee.

“At the time, the FBI supposedly transferred the case to (its Lansing, Michigan field office),” Penny said. “I was interested in getting to know Jay a little better. He’s a leader in the community. I’m a leader in the community. We met to talk about a few things and that was it.

At no time, Penny said, did he attempt to obstruct the FBI’s investigation of Nassar.

“You can’t hide something like that, and I never tried to hide it,” he said. “In fact, just the opposite. I denounced it.

After Nassar was removed from contact with Team USA, he won team gold and eight individual medals, including five by Biles, at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

In the wake of that performance, followed by the exposure of Nassar’s long history of abuse, critics ranging from members of Congress to plaintiffs’ attorneys said USA Gymnastics’ only interest was “medals and money.” , a characterization that Penny objects to.

“When we got to the level we’ve reached, I cared the most about helping athletes stay healthy,” he said. “I wanted the best kids on the team, and they had to be healthy to compete at their highest level at the most important time in their lives.”

Penny, who became CEO in 2005, said he inherited a world in which Nassar was so firmly entrenched that change was impossible.

“I had St. Vincent’s Sports Performance (in Indianapolis) as the first partnership I developed,” he said. “I had trainers who were ready to go with us, doctors who were ready and other options. And I introduced them to the athletes, to the program managers, to the families, but they all wanted Dr. Nassar. He was sacrosanct in this program.

“I felt that our medical support for the program should be more important than him, and to this day I despise how it all happened. That feeling will never go away.

The charge against Penny in Walker County stems from a 2018 Senate committee hearing in which Penny invoked her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.

At that same hearing, a former federation official said Penny, on instructions from attorneys, in 2015 ordered the Karolyi Ranch documents sent to the USA Gymnastics office in Indianapolis.

When the documents could not be located, David Weeks, the 2018 Walker County prosecutor, said the Senate testimony prompted him to take the case against Penny to a grand jury.

However, current DA Will Durham said there was no evidence to suggest the case should go to trial.

“A large number of documents (and possibly all previously deleted) were subsequently returned to Walker County upon request,” Durham said. “Without sufficient evidence that these records have been changed or altered and are permanently protected from discovery or observation, pursuant to the appeals decision interpreting Texas tampering law, our office decided that the matter. .. should not be prosecuted.”

Penny, who was represented in the Walker County case by Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, said he was grateful to Durham “for spending the time to look at this honestly. It took a lot of time, but thank God he took the time to make the right decision.

“Everything that happened was done at the direction and involvement of our lawyers (USA Gymnastics), who were also in direct communication with the Texas Rangers and others conducting the investigation. We provided a full cooperation, and I never felt like I did anything wrong.

He said Hardin and his team “were prepared and did a great job of getting to the real story.”

Hardin said he would seek to have the indictment struck from the record and said Durham made the right decision to drop the case.

“Steve Penny never did anything wrong,” Hardin said, “he was the guy who reported Nassar to the FBI, and it got lost in translation because of the harms that were done to young women .

“The irony is that the only guy who has twice sued law enforcement to do something is the one who was charged and criticized. He was accused of hiding information he never got. He never saw, received or exercised control over the documents.

Penny hasn’t worked since leaving USA Gymnastics in 2017 and said he’s been spending time with his wife and three daughters, “focusing on what’s important when it comes to life and the happiness”.

“I loved being at USA Gymnastics,” he said. “I tried to do the job as best I could and I really enjoyed working with the athletes. There’s nothing that can ever replicate that, so I don’t have any real vision for what’s next. I’m just trying to take care of my family.

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