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Manly: USAG Lied to Congress on Non-Disclosure Agreements
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USA Gymnastics' reply to a Congressional inquiry claims that the federation never used confidentiality agreements in settlements with victims of sexual abuse with the exception of McKayla Maroney, a claim disputed by Maroney's lawyer. Pictured: American gymnast McKayla Maroney at the 2011 World Championships

USA Gymnastics' reply to a Congressional inquiry claims that the federation never used confidentiality agreements in settlements with survivors of sexual abuse with the exception of McKayla Maroney, a claim disputed by Maroney's lawyer.

California attorney John Manly, who represents many of the survivors suing USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and Michigan State University (MSU) over sexual abuse by former team doctor Larry Nassar, said it's "a lie" that USAG's only non-disclosure agreement (NDA) was with Maroney.

"I've spoken with multiple athletes who were forced into signing NDAs with USAG," he told IG Tuesday evening.

USAG, the USOC and MSU provided written statements in response to a congressional inquiry that were released Tuesday by the Senate subcommittee led by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), members of the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security that has jurisdiction over the health and safety of American athletes, including those competing through the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The senators sent letters to all three institutions on January 25, the day after Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in Ingham County, Michigan, on seven charges of assault, the first of two public sentencing hearings in which any survivors of Nassar's abuse were allowed to speak. The letter inquired about "systemic failures to protect athletes from sexual abuse and the reported filing of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to silence a victim of abuse." On February 2, the senators broadened the scope of their investigation and sent letters to the other 53 national governing bodies (NGBs) under the U.S. Olympic Committee, after learning that two USOC executives were reportedly aware of sexual misconduct by Nassar one year before allegations against him became public and he was suspended by MSU in September 2016.

While represented by Gloria Allred, Maroney reportedly signed a settlement with USA Gymnastics for $1.25 million in December 2016, which Manly has stated was signed under duress as she desperately needed a medical intervention to save her life. (Her mother, in her own victim impact statement issued to the judge in Nassar's federal case, stated that McKayla had been suicidal.) The settlement reportedly contained a clause fining her $100,000 if she were to speak about the abuse, and also included a clause fining her parents the same amount if they were to speak about it, even though they were not party to any lawsuit and did not sign any agreement.

In October, as the #MeToo revolution spoke up, Maroney released a statement on Twitter sharing that she had also been sexually abused by Nassar multiple times, as well as drugged and assaulted by him at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. From 2011 to 2013, Maroney won three world championship gold medals, and gold and silver medals at the 2012 Olympics in London.

USA Gymnastics President & CEO Kerry Perry prefaced her responses to the senators' questions by stating she is new at the position and does not have first-hand knowledge of anything that occurred prior to December 1, 2017.

However, Manly took issue with Perry's response to the senators' fourth question, "Is it common practice by USOC and NGBs to utilize NDAs during investigations involving their organizations?" with a blanket response concerning USA Gymnastics history.

"USA Gymnastics has not used NDAs in conjunction with any investigation, but I cannot speak to the use of NDAs by other NGBs," Perry wrote.

Manly declined to say how many gymnasts he knew of who had signed NDAs with USAG, but said the athletes were in several states, not just California, where Maroney resides. Under California law, it is illegal to apply a confidentiality agreement in any civil case in which the underlying offense is a felony sex act. This law has been in place for several years. Maroney filed a lawsuit in December against USAG, USOC and MSU, which included that the previous settlement be set aside, including the confidentiality agreement, which is not only illegal but unenforceable according to California law.

In a deposition that took place in the spring of 2017, Manly asked then-USAG Chairman Paul Parilla, himself a retired judge, if he knew that such confidentiality agreements were illegal in California and how many other confidentiality agreements USAG had used with other Nassar victims. According to the deposition transcript, USAG's attorney instructed Parilla not to respond to either question.

In the USAG's statement, Perry wrote that USA Gymnastics had agreed to dissolve the confidentiality agreement with Maroney "and certain other settlement provisions challenged in her lawsuit."

There are three Congressional investigations underway in response to bipartisan outrage over the Nassar tragedy. More than 250 women came forward to issue statements at two hearings in Michigan in which they described being sexually abused by Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics, U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University team doctor. Many also accused USAG, USOC and MSU of failing to safeguard them from abuse and enabling Nassar's behavior.

Nassar, 54, was sentenced to a maximum of 300 years in prison for 10 counts of sexual assault. He pleaded guilty to the 10 counts in Michigan in addition to three counts in federal court related to child pornography. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison on the federal charges and was transferred to a maximum-security penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday. He is appealing the sentences.

More than 140 plaintiffs have joined a federal civil suit filed by Rachael Denhollander — who in September 2016 became the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault — against MSU, USAG, USOC, Nassar, John Geddert and Geddert's Twistars Gymnastics, the Michigan club where Nassar worked as a volunteer team coach for 20 years. USA Gymnastics has issued a motion to dismiss in Denhollander et al v MSU et al, denying liability in the case for any victims abused outside of Nassar's role with the U.S. national team.

The USOC's response to the Senate inquiry came from lawyer Brian D. Smith, of a Washington, D.C. law firm retained by the USOC. Smith wrote that the USOC's leadership was — "to the best of its current knowledge" — not aware of the settlement with Maroney, including the confidentiality agreement. The USOC also stated that it had begun its own investigation. The response also included an open letter from USOC CEO Scott Blackmun to athletes.

At least eight individuals have stated they informed MSU employees of Nassar's sexual assaults dating to 1997, and media investigations reported that at least 14 employees at MSU were aware of the allegations at some point. However, the university denied it had any knowledge of his sexual assaults, despite clearing him in its own investigation in 2014.

In its unsigned statement, MSU wrote that its current and past employees "have said that they do not remember the alleged reports to them (some of which would have taken place as many as 20 years ago) as they have been described. To date, there has been no indication that any MSU employee understood at any time prior to September 2016 that Nassar engaged in sexual misconduct. As noted earlier, MSU continues to investigate and may learn more as part of the litigation discovery process."

Perry's statement to the Senate also includes a questionable timeline in USA Gymnastics' response to Nassar. Contrary to statements made by Maggie Nichols and her family, that she and her coach, Sarah Jantzi, were the first to notify USA Gymnastics of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, Perry's letter claims that "on June 17, 2015, USA Gymnastics was contacted by a member coach regarding her athlete being uncomfortable with treatment she received from Dr. Nassar. This was not a report of abuse but led the organization to conduct three athlete interviews to learn more."

Nichols came forward on January 9 to reveal that she was "Athlete A," the first-known gymnast to report sexual abuse by Larry Nassar to USA Gymnastics, after her coach overheard her discussing Nassar's "treatments" at the Karolyi ranch national team training center. In her statement, she twice states that she reported abuse, not that she reported being "uncomfortable:" "In the summer of 2015, my coach and I reported this abuse to USA Gymnastics leadership.... My coach thought it was wrong, so she did the right thing and reported this abuse to the USA Gymnastics staff."

In her civil lawsuit against USAG and other parties, the complaint states that Jantzi "reported Defendant Nassar's misconduct to Defendant USAG officials" and Nichols' parents, that "Nassar's misconduct was reported to Defendant USAG's immediate past president Steve Penny, among other officials," and that "On multiple occasions Mr. Penny discouraged [Nichols'] parents from reporting Defendant Nassar's conduct to law enforcement and pressured them to keep the matter quiet."

Also on January 9, USA Gymnastics issued a statement in which it claimed that "Maggie's conversation overheard by a coach and her willingness to be interviewed about her comments and experiences initiated the process that resulted in the conviction of Larry Nassar for the reprehensible crimes he committed." This is contrary to all known facts in the case, as USA Gymnastics only reportedly informed the FBI at some point about Nassar, but the FBI took no consequential action. Nichols was not interviewed until more than a year after she made her report.

Nassar's arrest and conviction in Michigan were the result of Denhollander's report to the MSU Police Department on August 29, 2016, and The Indianapolis Star publishing her story September 12, 2016, along with the similar allegations by two anonymous women, later identified as Jamie Dantzscher and Jessica Howard, which resulted in dozens more women contacting MSU Police to file additional police reports. The MSU Police, in cooperation with the Michigan Attorney General, led the investigation into Nassar, which led to his arrest on November 22, 2016. After more than 100 had come forward, Nassar pleaded guilty in a plea agreement with the Michigan Attorney General exactly one year after charges were announced. His conviction in the child pornography case was also the result of Denhollander's report to the MSU Police, which issued a search warrant for Nassar's home on September 20, 2016.

The FBI has refused to comment on its inaction in the case. According to reports, more than 40 women and girls were sexually abused by Nassar between the time Maggie Nichols reported the abuse in June 2015 and when Nassar was suspended by MSU on August 30, 2016, the day after Rachael Denhollander filed her police report with the MSU Police.

Manly said he was bewildered by USAG's official statement in response to the Senate inquiry and wondered if Perry was even aware of the ramifications. Manly noted that USAG's statement was personally signed by Perry, unlike the USOC's statement, which came from an outside attorney, and MSU's unsigned statement.

"That woman needs to get her own lawyer," Manly said in reference to Perry.

Click here to read the letter from Sen. Blumenthal and Sen. Moran to USA Gymnastics. (January 25, 2018)
Click here to read the full response from USAG CEO Kerry Perry. (February 9, 2018)
Click here to read the full USOC response from attorney Brian D. Smith. (February 9, 2018)
Click here to read the full response from the MSU. (February 12, 2018)

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