Former USA Gymnastics doctor pleads guilty to child pornography charges
(CNN) — Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics physician accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women and girls, pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal child pornography charges.
Nassar, 53, pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography, possessing child pornography and to a charge that he hid and destroyed evidence in the case. The guilty plea was part of an agreement with the western Michigan US Attorney’s Office and was formally entered in federal court in Grand Rapids.
“Victims and the public can be assured that a day of reckoning is indeed in Dr. Nassar’s future,” Acting US Attorney Andrew Birge said in a statement. “No one, no matter his station in life, is above the law. Those who exploit children will be found out and they will be held accountable.”
Nassar’s attorneys, Matthew Newburg and Shannon Smith, declined to comment on the guilty plea, but issued a brief statement about the state charges he also faces.
“Dr. Nassar’s position on the state cases has not changed and we intend to proceed to trial. The plea today was negotiated only to resolve the federal charges,” their joint statement reads.
In total, Nassar faces 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and 11 counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct at the state level, according to Megan Hawthorne, deputy press secretary for state Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Nassar has pleaded not guilty to all of the state charges, Hawthorne said. Several of the first degree charges pertain to victims under 13, and all of the state-level charges involve former family friends, gymnasts, and/or patients of Nassar, she said.
Nassar, the father of three school-aged children, was the team physician for the Michigan State University gymnastics and women’s crew teams, as well as an associate professor at MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. He served as the USA Gymnastics physician through four Olympic Games.
Prosecutors alleged that between September and December 2004, Nassar knowingly downloaded images and videos of child pornography from the Internet and that between 2003 and 2016, he knowingly kept thousands of child pornography images and videos on his hard drive. Some of the images Nassar allegedly possessed included those of a minor under 12 years old, court documents state.
Furthermore, court documents allege that in September 2016, when he was aware that he was under investigation, Nassar paid $49 to have his laptop completely wiped of the pornographic images and videos and threw away several hard drives containing child pornography.
Nassar faces a combined maximum of 60 years of imprisonment. Nassar must also register as a sex offender and pay restitution to all of the victims of his sexual exploitation, the amounts of which will be determined at a later sentencing date, according to the terms of the plea deal.
In return, the US Attorney has agreed to dismiss Nassar’s original indictment and not prosecute Nassar for sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation of children, relating to alleged conduct with two minors in Nassar’s swimming pool in the summer of 2015 and for “illicit sexual conduct” with two other minor children during interstate and international travel, according to the plea agreement obtained by CNN.
Jeanette Antolin, a member of the US National Gymnastics Team from 1995-2000 who alleges that Nassar molested her when she was competing in Canada, Switzerland, and China, denounced the plea agreement.
“I sacrificed my childhood to compete for the United States throughout the world,” Antolin said. “The doctor they assigned to treat me betrayed my trust. Now the federal government is giving him a free pass for his alleged assaults on me and many other child athletes. That’s not justice.”
These federal charges are separate from the sexual assault charges that Nassar faces at the state level.
The state charges, filed in two Michigan counties, stem from allegations that Nassar sexually abused young female athletes under the guise of providing medical care in his home and other settings, including the Michigan State University sports medicine clinic and Twistars Gymnastics Club.
In February, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon stated that the university is “fully cooperating with every aspect of the ongoing criminal investigations and have urged all members of the MSU community to do so as well.”
The following month, Twistars Gymnastics Club issued a statement saying they “had zero knowledge of any of the allegations against Dr. Nassar, who was never an employee of Twistars. Our hearts go out to the women who have spoken up and, like everyone else, we are sickened to the core by their stories.”
In April, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) revoked Nassar’s medical license for a minimum of three years, said Jason Moon, communications director for LARA. Nassar must also pay a $100,000 fine if he chooses to file an application to reinstate his license. Reinstatement would require approval from the Michigan Board of Medicine, Moon said.