Lansing — Michigan State University cannot release an “investigative report” on an internal probe into its handling of criminal activity by former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar because no such document exists, according to an attorney representing the school.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the internal probe, defended MSU on Wednesday in a letter to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who had asked the university release the “Fitzgerald findings” to external law enforcement agencies.
But the university cannot produce an investigate report demanded by victim attorneys because “there is no investigative report,” Fitzgerald told Schuette as calls mount for an independent investigation of the school.
Fitzgerald said his law firm and another were retained by MSU, in part, “to review the underlying facts and disclose any evidence that others knowingly assisted or concealed” Nassar’s criminal conduct.
“Had we found such conduct, we would have reported such evidence to law enforcement promptly. And much as there is no ‘investigative report,’ there is no document that constitutes ‘Fitzgerald findings.’ ”
In February, Brian Breslin, chairman of MSU’s Board of Trustees, said the university was going to do an independent investigation, said California-based attorney John Manly, who represents 106 victims in a civil lawsuit against Nassar, MSU, USA Gymnastics, Gedderts’ Twistars USA Gymnastics Club and in some cases the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“Any credible investigation ends in a report, otherwise there is no investigation,” Manly said. “What has happened here is MSU has hired a very good defense lawyer, which they are entitled to do. Apparently the strategy that they have asked him to employ is to close the gate and bar the door on information about what the university knew and what they knew about Larry Nassar.”
A spokesman for the university could not be reached for comment on Friday.
But Fitzgerald offered to brief the attorney general or his staff on the internal review and how it relates to ongoing law enforcement investigations.
Schuette’s office released the MSU correspondence Friday as athlete victims and politicians continue to question Michigan State’s response to initial allegations against Nassar, who was sentenced Thursday to 60 years in prison for possessing 37,000 images of child pornography.
The former MSU and USA Gymanstics doctor is accused of sexually assaulting more than 100 girls and young women and will be sentenced on two other first-degree criminal sexual conduct case convictions in January.
Schuette has not said whether his office will launch an independent probe of MSU. The attorney general wrote University President Lou Anna K. Simon on Monday, urging release of any internal findings. Simon said the university is ready and willing to cooperate with any law enforcement request. She asked Fitzgerald to respond to Schuette.
Victims of Nassar have called on MSU to release what they called a $1 million taxpayer-funded report on an internal review of the Nassar scandal, saying MSU’s secret report contrasts with Penn State University’s response to the scandal surrounding Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of sexually abusing boys.
In his letter to Schuette, Fitzgerald sought to distinguish the Nassar and Sandusky cases.
“In the Penn State matter, it appears that high-ranking officials were aware of sexual abuse by an employee, decided to report the abuse to law enforcement, and then changed their mind and did not report the abuse,” Fitzgerald wrote.
“… In the MSU matter, we believe the evidence will show that no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in late summer 2016.”
Nassar “fooled everyone” around him, including colleagues, Fitzgerald added.
“While many in the community today wish that they had identified Nassar as a predator, we believe the evidence in this case will show that no one else at MSU knew that Nassar engaged in criminal behavior.”
But Rachael Denhollander — who became the first victim authorities believed in August 2016 — said she was disappointed to see MSU officials repeat their claims that no one knew anything during the time frame that Nassar was abusing children at MSU.
“As if illegal activity is the only way to enable an abuser,” said Denhollander, 33. “The questions about what happened at MSU extend far beyond potential illegal activity, and MSU blatantly refuses to acknowledge this.”
While MSU officials assert that everyone who had reports of Nassar’s misconduct believed he was not committing sexual assault, Denhollander said had the university handled disclosures of Nassar’s abuse properly, those in authority would have discovered and stopped him.
“MSU officials had multiple reports that Larry was penetrating young girls as far back as 1997,” Denhollander said. “No one took these reports seriously. No one listened. No one investigated. Victims were blamed, made to feel crazy, threatened, and sent back to Larry for treatment. To continually repeat that no illegal activity took place and ignore the gross mishandling of repeated allegations of abuse is nothing more than a red herring and an attempt to hide the real issues.”
While the 10 charges of first-degree criminal sexual assault Nassar admitted to involve nine young women, nearly 150 young women have come forward since Denhollander, alleging that he sexually assaulted them through digital penetration during medical visits over two decades.
Former Ingham County Prosecutor Gretchen Whitmer, whose office processed warrant requests as Nassar accusers came forward in 2016, on Friday joined calls for Schuette and the Michigan State Police to launch an internal investigation of MSU.
Whitmer is a Democratic candidate for governor. Schuette, a Republican, is also running for governor. Pat Miles, a Democrat running for attorney general, has also called for an independent investigation.
“When you have an agency that is investigating itself, it is an inherent conflict of interest,” Whitmer said. “We’ve got MSU investigating itself here. It’s unacceptable.”
Fitzgerald, in his letter to Schuette, noted there was an FBI investigation as he criticized plaintiff attorneys also calling for an independent investigation.
Fitzgerald also sent copies of the letter to Michigan State Police director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, FBI special agent David Gelios and U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge.
Schuette’s office said Friday it is reviewing the response to its request to release internal probe findings “to determine our next steps.”
Whitmer, a former state Senate Minority Leader, served as interim Ingham County prosecutor for six months in 2016 after former Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings resigned over prostitution charges.
Asked why she did not investigate MSU during her tenure as prosecutor, Whitmer said the “first phase” was to make sure the criminal investigation of Nassar moved forward.
Her office did not lead the Nassar prosecution, she said, because it “quickly became apparent that the alleged criminal activity was not just state-based nor just Ingham County-based.”
Instead, Schuette’s office prosecuted Nassar for state-level crimes and the U.S. Attorney’s Office led the child pornography case.
“It’s time to do right by the victims, and to have a clear, transparent, and independent investigation” of Michigan State, she said.