Ex-MSU President Simon charged with lying over Nassar

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon

Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon has been charged with lying about what she knew about the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, making her the highest-ranking university official so far to face criminal prosecution. 

Simon is charged with four counts of lying to a peace officer — two felonies, two misdemeanors — as part of an investigation into Nassar by the Michigan State Police according to a state Attorney General's office warrant filed in Eaton County's district court. The felony charges carry up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The document says Simon "did knowingly and willfully make a
statement or statements to the officer that he or she knew was false or misleading regarding the following material fact or facts relating to the investigation."

Specifically at issue, according to the warrant, was Simon's claim that she was not aware of the nature of the complaint that generated a 2014 MSU Title IX investigation into victim Amanda Thomashow's allegations against Nassar — a former MSU sports doctor now imprisoned after admitting to sexually abusing young women under the guise of medical treatment.

"When asked about whether she was aware of any investigation involving Larry Nassar prior to 2016, she falsely or misleadingly said that 'I was aware that in 2014 there was a sports medicine doc who was subject to a review' when in fact she knew it was Larry Nassar who was the subject of the 2014 MSU Title IX investigation into the Amanda Thomashow complaint," the warrant states.

But Simon's attorney, Lee Silver of Grand Rapids, said the charges have "no merit whatsoever" and are "completely baseless."

"I have not seen a shred of evidence to support these charges, which I believe are completely baseless," Silver said. "We are confident that when we have our day in court, Dr. Simon will be exonerated and these charges will be proven to have no merit whatsoever."

Thomashow's Title IX complaint was investigated in 2014 after she had a March 24, 2014, appointment with Nassar for treatment of hip pain, and he touched her inappropriately. She also reported Nassar’s behavior to the MSU police department in May 2014.

Thomashow's complaint was among at least eight young women who alerted at least 14 Michigan State University representatives in the two decades before his arrest in 2016, according to a January report by The Detroit News.

Simon said she was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed physician.

“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation," Simon said while she attended the January court hearing in Ingham County for victims to give impact statements against Nassar. "I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”

Simon resigned from the university presidency in January but stayed on in a lesser role at MSU after more than 150 young women testified for seven days about how their lives were profoundly altered by Nassar’s sexual abuse.

When Simon resigned, the former president unlocked numerous benefits from her contract, including earning her full $750,000 salary during a one-year research leave.

Simon has been seen on campus, according to MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant, but she was not teaching classes and was not involved in any projects related to campus.

On Tuesday, the university released a statement that read: “We are aware of the charges brought today against former President Simon.  She is taking an immediate leave of absence, without pay, to focus on her legal situation."

Reached by phone Tuesday, Thomashow declined to make an immediate statement.

But many victims were making statements on Twitter, including Lindsey Lemke, who wrote Simon's arrest came as no surprise.

"It has been very clear that she has always tried to hide from this situation and only protect herself and now we know why," Lemke tweeted. 

Morgan McCaul, one of Nassar's victims, summarized the sentiment of others when she tweeted: “Thought this day would never come. Justice.”

Nassar, once a famous Olympic sports doctor, was first publicly accused in September 2016 by victim Rachael Denhollander. For months, many did not believe Denhollander but a steady number of women began filing civil lawsuits and telling similar stories about Nassar.

Nassar initially denied the accusations then admitted to the sexual abuse, along with possessing 37,000 images of child pornography. He is currently serving one of three prison terms at  Coleman II United States Penitentiary, a high-security prison in Sumterville, Florida, near Orlando.

For months, the university denied culpability. In October 2016, MSU hired former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who led an internal MSU inquiry into the Nassar case, and wrote: “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.” 

Following a community outcry that the investigation into MSU needed to be independent, MSU's board asked the Michigan Attorney General's Office to conduct an investigation. That probe is being led by special prosecutor William Forsyth.

Megan Hawthorne, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Schuette, said the office had no further comment on the charges against Simon.

Others charged in connection with the Nassar scandal include William Strampel, the former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar's former boss. He also charged Kathie Klages, the longtime MSU head gymnastics coach who has since retired. 

Debbie Van Horn, a trainer who worked with Nassar and elite gymnasts at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas, was also charged by Texas authorities in connection with the scandal earlier this year.

Attempts to reach MSU's Board of Trustees, including the newly elected members, were unsuccessful Tuesday.

U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the health and safety of USA Gymnastics, U.S. Olympic and NCAA athletes, said the charges against Simon "illustrate her desire to first and foremost protect her own position and institution, even when it came in direct conflict with doing right by Michigan State athletes in the wake of repeated abuse claims at the hands of Larry Nassar."

Simon testified at a congressional hearing in June at which she explained to a Senate subcommittee that she did not ask for a copy of the Title IX report under questioning by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

"These charges, Ms. Simon’s hesitation to testify at our hearing in June ... continue to point to the systemic mismanagement and enablement of abuse that occurred at MSU," they said.

Simon is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday in Eaton County.