Will Doctor's Child Porn Plea Deal Mean No Accountability for the Karolyis?

Will Doctor's Child Porn Plea Deal Mean No Accountability for the Karolyis?
Screengrab from NBC

USA Gymnastics backed out of buying Karolyi Ranch awhile back, as we noted. Now, it is possible that may be the extent of the consequences the famed OIympic gymnastics coaches carry for the part they played in creating an environment in which a sexual predator could go after young, vulnerable female athletes for years without any consequences.

Why? Well, it's because of a plea deal that Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who has been accused of sexually abusing more than 100 women, some of them Olympic athletes, recently accepted.

In exchange for pleading guilty to three federal counts of child pornography — which is pretty reasonable considering investigators discovered thousands of images in Nassar's trash last fall — on Tuesday Nassar got a plea bargain that says prosecutors won't pursue certain federal charges on allegations of sexual abuse.

Specifically, federal authorities have agreed not to further prosecute Nassar “for sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation of children” relating to allegations that Nassar molested two minors in his swimming pool in 2015. And he won't be facing prosecution for “interstate/international travel with intent and engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places,” which goes back to “conduct that is alleged to have occurred between 2006 and 2013” involving two other women.

This may end up being a good deal for Nassar, who has been accused of sexually abusing more than 100 women and who could end up serving only about 20 years if the federal judge sentencing him in November decides to let him serve his sentences all at once.

Meanwhile, the plea bargain may amount to a free pass for the people who created a system that allowed someone like Nassar to prey on young athletes with impunity: Bela and Marta Karolyi.

After all, Nassar didn't operate in a vacuum.

He was the team doctor for the U.S. National Team because the Karolyis allowed him to be. They were the ones running the facility who gave him access to the gymnasts when they were on the road for meets, and when they were training at the Karolyi Ranch, located in the Sam Houston National Forest, just north of Houston.

There have been rumors for years that the Karolyis created a harsh environment for the young athletes in their charge. Gold medalist Dominique Moceanu began speaking out years ago about what she said was an abusive training environment, but she says the gymnastic community ostracized her instead of examining the Karolyis' operation.

Lawsuits filed against Nassar have also named USA Gymnastics and the Karolyis as defendants. Court records recount how Nassar was able to gain the trust of the athletes by befriending the girls in that high-pressure environment.

One woman, who has remained anonymous, a member of the 2010 team who won a silver medal at the 2010 world championships, has sued Nassar, declaring in the lawsuit that some of the sexual abuse occurred at the Karolyi Ranch. The lawsuit also states that the Karolyis created a "toxic" environment in which the strict training approach left girls and young women vulnerable. Bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher and national champion rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard have made similar allegations in their own lawsuits.

But despite this fact, the Karolyis, who have denied all allegations of wrongdoing, as we've previously noted, have officially remained untouched by the scandal.

Now, some of the most prominent plaintiffs, including former Olympic athletes who allege that Nassar sexually abused them, may not get their day in court.

The plea deal could affect about 10 percent of 119 women believed to have filed allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar, according to John Manly, the lawyer representing many of the plaintiffs, including former Olympic athletes, who have filed lawsuits against Nassar, USA Gymnastics and the Karolyis. “The message the federal government is sending and the U.S. Attorney's Office is sending is either it didn't happen or it doesn't matter. In my view that's a breach of faith with our athletes,” Manly told NPR.

However, the federal government insists the plea deal will not have the sweeping implications Manly has predicted. “The plea agreement does not preclude the government from pursuing additional charges against Nassar related to his conduct with other individuals, if appropriate,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan.

So it's unclear at this point if there will ever be more intense scrutiny of the part the Karolyis played in this mess, which is nothing new. What's troubling is that if Manly proves to be right, we may never have any clarity on how much of the responsibility is theirs.


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