Special prosecutor in MSU probe known as tough, fair

Louis Aguilar, and Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The person who will lead the state investigation that’s expected take a deep dive into what Michigan State University officials knew about Larry Nassar’s years of sexual abuse is a retired prosecutor who will work full-time on the case, which could take months.


Bill Forsyth, who was the Kent County prosecutor in western Michigan for 30 years, is a tough, fair-minded attorney who is also in the position to work full-time on the open-ended investigation, people who know him say.

“He has the experience and capability and good judgment to handle something this unusual,” said Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul J. Sullivan, who’s known Forsyth since the 1990s. “The fact that he is retired right now is also an advantage. He’ll be able to devote his full energy to this,” Sullivan told The Detroit News.

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On Saturday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced Forsyth will lead the investigation that will take a broad look at MSU policies, the actions of university officials and whether Nassar’s abuse was ignored or covered up. Michigan State Police will be assisting in the investigation.

It is unclear when the probe, which Schuette announced Saturday that Forsyth was leading, began.

The investigation, according to the attorney general spokeswoman Andrea Bitely, “has been going on for some time and will continue.”

Forsyth retired as Kent County prosecutor last year. The current Kent County prosecutor, Chris Becker, also praised Forsyth. “He’s gonna be thorough, he’s gonna look into everything and he’s not gonna leave any stone unturned,” Becker told Grand Rapids television news, WOOD.

The MSU investigation will take months if not longer, Sullivan and Becker said. “I would be shocked if it took less than a year,” Becker said.

At the Saturday press conference, Forsyth said the investigation will be lengthy but didn’t put a deadline on it. By the end of it, they’ll disclose how Nassar abused more than 150 girls over two decades without anyone stopping him.

“How was he allowed to engage in this behavior for almost 20 years? How could he victimize so many innocent young girls and young women for that period of time and no one caught him or stopped him?” Forsyth said. “In this investigation, we intend to answer those questions. Those are answers that are long long overdue.”

The university, Forsyth said, has “withheld certain information maybe because it was gonna put them in a better light, but you simply can’t do that.”

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Forsyth was the 2016 recipient of the Frank J. Kelley Distinguished Public Service Award for recognition of “extraordinary governmental service” by a member of the state Bar.

Schuette said he’ll be sending a letter to the university’s attorney to “turn over all information he has gathered in the course of his work to ensure that our investigation leaves no stone unturned.”

The board of trustees, which originally held a vote of confidence to keep President Lou Anna K. Simon before she resigned last week amid widespread pressure, asked Schuette to appoint an independent special prosecutor because of the potentially political undertones of the investigation. Schuette is running for Michigan governor.

Schuette jabbed at the board during the news conference.

“Now the MSU board of trustees asked the department of Attorney General to conduct an investigation. I am and I have been. Let me also add this: I don’t need advice from the board of trustees at MSU about how to conduct an investigation,” Schuette said.

“Frankly they should be the last ones to be providing advice given their conduct throughout this entire episode,” he said. “Their conduct throughout this entire episode speaks for itself.”

Schuette did not take questions from reporters or disclose how long his office has been investigating MSU, but said his office will look into all levels of university leadership to discover who may have known about Nassar’s abuse, when and whether they did anything to stop it.

“It has become abundantly clear that a full and complete investigation of what happened at Michigan State University from the president’s office down is required.”

Schuette on Friday for the first time confirmed his office has been conducting an “ongoing investigation” into MSU’s handling of accusations against Nassar that date back decades.

He had previously said he would announce an investigation after Nassar’s Jan. 31 sentencing in an Eaton County case.

On Wednesday night, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned, empathizing with Nassar’s victims but also calling the tragedy “politicized.” Athletic Director Mark Hollis retired on Friday.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is meanwhile considering action against MSU’s leadership over the Nassar scandal, his office said Friday, softening earlier claims he did not have the authority to intervene.

The administration is reviewing “options under the governor’s authority, if any,” she said, “as well as whether any action would interfere with the numerous investigations under way.”

In February 2016, the attorney general told reporters at a Lansing press conference that prosecuting Nassar was the sole focus of his investigation, adding that any probe into what MSU staff may have known was the responsibility of the university’s attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald. The university told Schuette that Fitzgerald never produced a report of his investigation when he asked for a copy.

But Friday, Schuette said on WJR radio that his office has “had an ongoing investigation for some time now.” He said he announced the probe early because the more than 150 women who gave victim impact statements during Nassar’s sentencing hearing prompted him “to give an update of where we are.”

“No, I didn’t tiptoe around it,” Schuette said. “I wanted to make sure these women in Ingham County in front of Judge Aquilina had their day in court.”

On Wednesday, after more than 150 survivors made statements, an Ingham County Circuit judge sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years in prison.

Schuette told WJR “it’s been so messed up at MSU,” adding that “people in this state want to know what the heck happened, who knew what, who didn’t properly follow protocol or alert law enforcement, what have you.”

As The Detroit News reported last week, sexual assault allegations against Nassar reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives over two decades. Simon learned of a Title IX complaint and police report against an unnamed sports doctor in 2014 but said she never received a copy.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is also investigating the university, and inquiries are planned in both Congress and the state Legislature.