Klages' lawyer hints charges politically motivated as she is arraigned
Lansing — A year after she resigned from her Michigan State University post in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, Kathie Klages turned herself in to authorities Thursday following charges that she lied to a peace officer.
Klages, the head MSU gymnastics coach for 27 seasons, was charged after a Michigan Attorney General investigator testified last week that he interviewed two former gymnasts who allege that they told Klages about Nassar, a serial sex offender, in 1997. But during his interview with Klages, the former coach denied their account.
After Judge Louise Alderson arraigned Klages in 54-A District Court, her lawyer, Lansing-based Takura Nyamfukudza, said they had "irrefutable" evidence that will clear Klages' name.
He also alleged political motivation by Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is seeking election as Michigan's governor in November.
"The fact that his office authorized the charges (against) Klages so close to the election is no coincidence," said Nyamfukudza.
But Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General's Office, dismissed the claim that politics were involved. She said the charges against Klages, the head MSU gymnastics coach for 27 seasons, are part of an ongoing investigation into what happened at the state's largest university that allowed Nassar, a former doctor, to sexually abuse young women for so long.
"The allegation is that Ms. Klages lied to a law enforcement officer during an investigation into sexual assault – this isn’t about the current political climate, this is about finding out what happened at MSU, and the truth matters in this investigation," Bitely said.
Lindsey Lemke, who said she told Klages about Nassar in 2016, said seeing the former coach in court was surreal but another step in her healing process. She scoffed at Klages' attorney's inference that the charges against Klages were politically motivated.
"Anybody would know that Larry Nassar was the first person who needed to be taken down because he was the abuser," Lemke said. "And now you move on to the enablers. We've been talking about Kathie Klages from the beginning ... Had Kathie done the right thing when it was first reported to her in 1997, hundreds of us, if not thousands would not have been abused. For her to go and lie to investigators shows she is covering up something."
Nassar admitted to sexually abusing 10 female minors while an osteopathic doctor at MSU and USA Gymnastics, and possessing hordes of child pornography.More than 250 young women testified that he sexually abused them.
Klages, who turned 64 on Saturday, was one of 14 MSU representatives who received reports about Nassar's abuse over the two decades before his arrest, according to a Detroit News investigation.
She is the fourth person to be charged in connection with the Nassar scandal, which involved the sexual assault of hundreds of young women over nearly 30 years.
Thursday was the first time Klages has appeared publicly since she resigned from Michigan State in February 2017, after two former gymnasts filed lawsuits against MSU and other institutions, saying they had told Klages about Nassar 20 years earlier.
Larissa Boyce and another woman, who has remained anonymous, allege they reported Nassar’s sexual abuse to Klages in 1997, when they were high school gymnasts in the Spartan Youth Program, a gymnastics program administered by Klages at MSU. Both said Klages didn't believe them.
Last week, Special Independent Counsel Bill Forsyth announced two charges against Klages, alleging she falsely denied to Michigan State Police detectives that she had been told prior to 2016 of Nassar’s sexual misconduct. One charge is a felony and the other is a misdemeanor, with prison sentences of up to four and two years, respectively, and a $5,000 fine.
In his testimony to Magistrate Laura Millmore for a warrant last Thursday, AG Special Agent David Dwyre testified that he interviewed both gymnasts, identified as witness number one and witness number two, in February 2018.
Both said they told Klages about Nassar's sexual abuse in 1997 while in the youth program. Dwyre said when he interviewed Klages four months later on June 21, 2018, she denied being made aware of Nassar's sexual abuse at that time.
"During the course of the interview, (Kathie) Klages was untruthful and denied being told by any gymnast, including witness number one and witness number two, that Larry Nassar sexually assaulted them," Dwyre said.
While Nyamfukudza declined to reveal details on Thursday, he said there is evidence that will clear Klages.
"There is irrefutable evidence that will undercut these claims that have been made," he said. "This is something that she couldn't have transported herself backwards 20 years in time to make happen.These charges are based on someone pointing the finger, that's all it takes, a very low standard of proof ... There are facts, and these one are irrefutable and for that reason we are confident her name will be cleared."
Klages was supposed to turn herself in at the end of last week, but was out of state and cut her trip short to face the charges, her attorney said. She has been living in Florida but traveled back to Mason, where she has family, Nyamfukudza said.
Shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday, she walked down the street near the State Capitol, flanked by her attorney, and hand in hand with her husband. She declined to answer reporters' questions before turning herself into Lansing Police. Judge Louise Alderson then arraigned her in 54-A District Court on two charges of lying to a peace officer.
Klages said little during the hearing, which was broadcast on a video screen in the courtroom.
Laura Moody, chief deputy attorney general, asked Alderson to order Klages to post a bond to ensure she appears for future hearings and no contact with witnesses, past or present gymnasts, or anyone at MSU. Moody also asked that the judge order that she not travel out of state and turn in her passport.
"This is a significant crime," Moody said.
But Nyamfukudza countered that Klages has no criminal history, noted that she turned herself in with advance notice to the attorney general's office, and argued that some of the AG's office requests were too broad.
"She was out of state and cut her trip short at great expense to herself by returning last night," Nyamfukudza said. "She is here. She does have many, many ties to the community ... to request that she not speak with any gymnasts, she coached gymnastics for many, many years. I know that she has the great support of many people not involved in this case."
Alderson agreed with Klages' attorney that it was too broad to order her to not have contact with the gymnastics or MSU communities. She ordered Klages to not travel outside of Michigan, have no communication with witnesses in the case and those at MSU related to the case, and surrender her passport and post a $5,000 bond, 10 percent.
Two dates were set for Klages' next court appearances, including a probable cause determination on Sept. 7 at 1:30 p.m. and a preliminary exam on Sept. 27 at 1 p.m.
Lemke said Thursday was an important day for her and other victims because Klages was one of the first people she told about Nassar in 2016, besides her parents.
"I went to her as a trusted adult and she didn't really take proper action," Lemke said. "She defended Larry in front of me and told me I could hurt Larry's reputation if I told police. For me, to see this, it's good for me to know that sticking to my gut and making a police report and standing up for all these girls was worth it, because now the truth comes out and she is being held accountable."
Her mother, Christy Lemke, agreed that it's a relief to see other enablers of Nassar being called out.
"The most important people are being held accountable for what Larry was doing to these girls," said Christy Lemke. "And there's many more. So we're working on it."
Besides Klages, others who have been charged include Nassar; his ex-boss, William Strampel, the former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. and Debbie Van Horn, a trainer who worked with Nassar and elite gymnasts at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas.
Bitely said the investigation into MSU is "open and ongoing."