Engler: Police probing fraud in victim assistance fund
Detroit — A fund to help victims of Larry Nassar with counseling, which was shut down after possible fraudulent claims, is being investigated by MSU police, said MSU Interim President John Engler on Wednesday. .
"It's been moved from being an investigation to being an active police investigation," said Engler, who did not say when it would be operational again. "There will have to be changes. The level of fraud is such that we know that it cannot operate the way it did."
Engler's announcement come as the $10 million Healing Assistance Fund, established in December amid the Nassar sex abuse scandal, was halted in late July following claims of fraudulent use of the fund.
The fund's suspension has come under fire from victims of Nassar and their allies, who say Michigan State University is not handling the investigation properly. They say the program was established with vague parameters, which were changed to create new stipulations that the university are now calling fraud, and making victims look bad.
"It's extremely disheartening, again," said Trinea Gonczar, a Nassar victim who seeking reinbursement for her care after MSU. "Its just another step in the right direction, and then they go backwards, every time."
John Manly, an attorney representing most of the victims sexually assaulted by Nassar, spoke more harshly, saying the fund was a public relations stunt and now the university realizes it's going to cost money. He said Engler probably was "licking his chops" trying to find a victim to prosecute.
"If he worried as much about predators on campus as he does about prosecuting survivors, we'd all be better off," said Manly. "MSU will never, ever recover from the scandal as long as he is in power."
The fund was set up when former MSU President Lou Anna Simon was leading the university. Pressure was mounting on MSUafter scores of victims filed civil lawsuits, alleging MSU and other institutions failed to protect them from Nassar, a convicted pedophile who abused young women under the guise of medical treatment for nearly three decades.
When the program launched, Gonczar said they were given a name, phone number and email of a company in Minnesota to contact for counseling for themselves and family members. They were told to provide receipts and bank statement for claims.
"Now they are changing their parameters of expectations that they didn’t put in place initially and they are calling it fraudulent," Gonczar said.
She doesn't understand why MSU doesn't suspend the program for those who allegedly made fraudulent claims. Instead, they are penalizing everyone, she said.
"Many, many girls cannot go to counseling now," said Gonczar. "Many girls started programs and now they can't continue. Here again, MSU offers something, and then they take it away."
Engler made the comments about fund after an appearance at the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday. He did not address when the fund, which has paid out about $1 million, would be reopened.
Manly stirred the issue in a tweet he posted Tuesday about the fund.
"MSU’s 'victims assistance fund' have begun calling Nassar survivors mental health providers and demanding confidential treatment info without waivers or seeking patient permission," Manly wrote. "The depravity, greed & sadism of John Engler and his misogynistic stooges knows no bounds."
Emily Guerrant, MSU spokeswoman, said the calls likely are due to the investigation.
When it launched, the university asked the fund vendor, Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation Inc., to provide documentation for claims over $10,000 showing that they came from a victim or family member and a licensed therapist and that they were out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance.
"Those were the only parameters on the fund when it was created," Guerrant said. "Now the vendor is probably going back to gather some of those materials. We certainly hope that Commonwealth is following all health care and privacy laws as they are doing that."
Guerrant said there was notimeline for completion of the probe.
"Everyone hopes that the investigation goes quickly and that it goes back up," Guerrant said.