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Nassar, trainer charged with sex assault; Karolyis cleared

UPDATED: Fri., June 29, 2018

Dr. Larry Nassar appears in court for a plea hearing Nov. 22, 2017, in Lansing, Mich. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
Dr. Larry Nassar appears in court for a plea hearing Nov. 22, 2017, in Lansing, Mich. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
By David Warren Associated Press

DALLAS – Texas prosecutors on Friday filed sexual assault charges against Larry Nassar and a trainer who worked at his side, expanding the worst abuse scandal in U.S. sports history beyond Michigan while also clearing world-renowned gymnastics coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi whose ranch served as a training site for Olympians.

Nassar, a former sports doctor, was charged with sexually assaulting six minors in Walker County, home of the Karolyi ranch, about 70 miles north of Houston.

A grand jury also indicted former sports medicine trainer Debra Van Horn on one count of second-degree sexual assault of a child, making her the first person other than Nassar to be charged in direct connection with the assaults. She had worked at Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics for 30 years.

Walker County District Attorney David Weeks said Van Horn was charged as “acting as a party” with Nassar. He didn’t elaborate. Efforts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful, and the name of her lawyer wasn’t immediately known.

In Michigan, Nassar was sentenced earlier this year to decades in prison, after hundreds of women and girls accused him of molesting them with his hands under the guise of medical treatment. They said the abuse went as far back as the 1990s while he worked at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

A victim, Mattie Larson, told a judge in January that Van Horn “would be in the room many of the times Larry abused me. If a trainer, a professional trainer, doesn’t say anything about it, I should trust her. At least that’s what I thought.”

The Karolyis have denied wrongdoing. They could not be reached for comment Friday; a call to the number listed for Bela Karolyi was not answered.

“The Karolyis were and remain fully cooperative with this investigation. There is no corroborated evidence of any criminal conduct” by the couple, said Stephanie Stroud, a Walker County prosecutor.

Stroud said investigators tried to determine if anyone at the ranch knew about Nassar’s conduct and did not report it. But the two-year statute of limitations had already lapsed on any possible misdemeanor charges of failure to report.

“That in no way means there was no wrongdoing at the ranch or within the ranks of USAG,” Stroud said, referring to USA Gymnastics. “It is our belief that there was a total failure by USAG to protect the athletes that were part of their program and to take appropriate action once they were made aware of Dr. Nassar’s actions.”

In a statement, USA Gymnastics said it is cooperating with Texas investigators and is committed “to doing everything possible to prevent this from happening again.”

Nassar, 54, probably won’t be free again due to his long prison sentences for assault and child pornography crimes. But Weeks, the district attorney, said he still wants to bring him to Texas to face the charges.

“There are a number of hoops we have to jump through to get him here,” Weeks told reporters.

The Karolyis are suing the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, seeking more than $1 million for the canceled sale of their training center near Huntsville – a transaction that tanked in the wake of the Nassar scandal.

Several former gymnasts have also filed lawsuits. One of them, Sabrina Vega, filed a lawsuit in May alleging USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Karolyis failed to protect her and other athletes.

Vega, who was on the team that won a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships, alleges the organizations and the Karolyis ignored signs about Nassar’s behavior or should have known he posed a risk.

She said Nassar molested her hundreds of times during medical treatments from 2008, when she was 12 years old, until 2012. Vega said the abuse occurred during competitions and at the Karolyi ranch.

Congress passed a bill in January that makes members of amateur sports organizations, including those that run Olympic sports, mandatory reporters of sexual abuse. It also requires the organizations to implement standard protections for athletes.

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