Nessel's office to investigate Geddert in Nassar scandal

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Attorney General Dana Nessel answers questions from reporters about the clergy abuse in the Catholic Church, MSU/Nassar and Flint Water Crisis during the press conference.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday her office will take over the investigation of John Geddert, a former USA Gymnastics coach who oversaw a Michigan club where multiple victims of sexual predator Larry Nassar trained.

Speaking at a news conference, Nessel also urged Michigan State University to cooperate with her office's investigation into MSU's handling of allegations against Nassar. 

Nessel said that her office continues to try to get documents the university has withheld under attorney-client privilege, and also interview former MSU interim President John Engler.

MSU initially withheld 7,500 documents under attorney-client privilege and it appears as though her office is not going to see 6,000 of those documents because MSU has "fought this office every step of the way."

"It's time for Michigan State University to do the right thing," Nessel said. "Our goal is here is to find justice and also to provide a sense of security."

Michigan State spokeswoman Emily Guerrant and Board Chair Dianne Byrum did not immediately respond Thursday to messages seeking comment.

California-based attorney John Manly hailed Nessel's move to take over the probe of Geddert, who has been under investigation by Eaton County officials for months. Geddert operated Gedderts Twistars USA in Dimondale. 

"Geddert was a close associate of Nassar’s for decades," said Manly. "Many of our clients reported abuse by Nassar at Geddert’s gym, and also alleged physical and emotional abuse by Geddert as a coach.

"It is our expectation that the Attorney General’s investigation will be thorough and will hold Geddert accountable if any criminal conduct is uncovered," Manly continued. "It is also our hope that this action will encourage state and federal law-enforcement agencies to open serious investigations into USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee for their roles in the Nassar scandal."

Nessel made her remarks at a press conference where she also gave updates into the investigations into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the Flint water crisis prosecutions.

It was the first update Nessel gave since taking office in January.

Shortly after voters elected Nessel, special prosecutor William Forsyth of the AG's office revealed the results of his year-long investigation that led to criminal charges against former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, former head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages and former College of Osteopathic Medicine dean William Strampel. 

Forsyth said AG officials interviewed more than 550 witnesses and reviewed nearly 500,000 pages of documents. But Forsyth also said MSU was obstructing the investigation that the Board of Trustees asked for at the height of the Nassar scandal in 2018.

Before requesting the AG's investigation, the trustees had hired former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to perform an internal inquiry. When the Attorney General's Office asked for Fitzgerald's report, MSU said there was no such document and asserted attorney-client privilege during the office's subsequent investigation.

"The decision to hire a private law firm to do their internal investigation made it almost impossible ever to find out what happened," Forsyth said.

Nessel said she had hoped that the new Michigan State trustees and acting President Satish Udpa would "live up to their pledge of cooperation. And I am still hopeful that will happen."

"If MSU really wants to get to the root of the problem, it must right the ship," he said.

Nessel said MSU disclosed it had withheld or heavily redacted 7,500 documents under attorney-client privilege. AG officials went to court, seeking to get those documents. They were reviewed by East Lansing District Judge Richard Ball. Then, MSU voluntarily released 1,000 of the documents.

Of the 6,500 remaining documents, Ball said 177 of them were not privileged documents and should go to the attorney general, Nessel said.  But MSU objected, she said, and complained that of those 177 documents, 29 should be redacted or withheld.

"This office has done everything we can to try and force the university to be as transparent as possible," Nessel said. "But there is really only so much we can do without the university's cooperation."

Former Attorney General Bill Schuette is pleased to see all three investigations proceeding because it is important to the victims to see them through, former Schuette aide Rusty Hills said.

“It’s unfortunate that 6,000 documents that MSU has in its possession will not be provided to the Attorney General’s Office because it would be helpful in resolving what the university knew and when,” Hills said Thursday. 

Prior to resigning, Engler said in January that the university was withholding 29 documents under attorney-client privilege. But if the judge had ruled that MSU should give them to investigators, he told The News, "we are happy to turn those over."

Nessel also said her office continues to seek information about former board member George Perles' resignation late last year, allegedly in exchange for forgiveness of a financial commitment he had made to MSU.