Two U.S. Senators said former U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive officer Scott Blackmun made false statements and misled Congress and have referred the case to the Justice Department and FBI for criminal investigation.
The referral Friday by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate sub-committee with jurisdiction over the health and safety of U.S. Olympic and NCAA athletes, came four days after a report-commissioned by the USOC said Blackmun misled a USOC board member about when he was informed of sexual abuse allegations against former U.S. Olympic and USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar.
The report by Ropes & Gray, a Boston-based law firm, also found that Blackmun and Alan Ashley, then USOC chief of sport performance, were first notified by then USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny of allegations against Nassar in July 2015. Yet neither Blackmun, who was paid $1.3 million by the USOC in 2017, or Ashley took action or reported it to USOC board members, the report said. During the 15 months between when Blackmun and Ashley first became aware of the Nassar allegations and the abuse became public, Nassar continued to sexually abuse dozens of young athletes. Blackmun was forced to resign in February. Ashley was fired Monday.
Moran and Blumenthal said the subcommittee forwarded the Blackmun case to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray, citing Blackmuns “materially false statements contained in his written testimony to the Subcommittee during the course of the Subcommittees investigation.”
“The Subcommittee takes its oversight role seriously, and it appears that Mr. Blackmun has made false claims and misled our Subcommittee – harming the investigation and ability to develop policy,” Moran and Blumenthal said in a statement. “Just as importantly, survivors of abuse have had to wait longer for the truth and longer for systemic changes to help prevent others from similar injury.”
The move by Moran and Blumenthal came shortly before the USOC board of directors discussed financial settlements with the hundreds of Nassar survivors while going over the organizations litigation options with the USOCs outside counsel.
The USOC like USA Gymnastics, Michigan State, former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny and former U.S. national team directors Bela and Martha Karolyi face lawsuits related in Nassar in dozens of jursidictions. USA Gymnastics, which faces decertification proceedings initiated by the USOC, recently filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
“I think we discussed all the potential options,” incoming USOC chairman Susanne Lyons after a regularly scheduled board meeting in the Bay Area Friday. “If youre asking about bankruptcy for the USOC as an option thats not something on the table nor do we anticipate that it would be. We are looking at all options which would include at what time might it be appropriate to enter discussions about settlements.”
USOC board members declined to comment on the Senate referral.
“We have not had the opportunity to see the letter so its not appropriate for us to comment at this time on that matter,” USOC board chairman Larry Probst said more than seven hours after Moran and Blumenthals joint statement was released.
Probst was questioned again later in a Friday afternoon conference call with reporters.
“I just dont think its appropriate for me to speculate on what Scott was thinking or not thinking,” Probst said. “Its just, thats something youll have to ask Scott. Again I just dont think its appropriate for me to respond to that.”
Probst was asked about the breakdown in communications among top USOC officials in the Nassar case and about ways to fix the system in the future.
“Again I cannot comment or speculate on what was going through Scotts mind or how he went through his decision making process,” Probst said. “Obviously the system broke down in many aspects beginning with some of the things that took place at USAG, at the USOC, obviously Michigan State University. But, you know, me speculating on how people were thinking about process or what kind of decisions they made, its just you know.”
“While I think its hard for us to figure out looking in the rear-view mirror what went wrong,” Lyons interjected, “I think (USOC CEO) Sarah (Hirshland) and I are very committed to ensuring that as we go forwards we have very open and transparent conversations … and were going to sit down and make a list to just ensure that were on the same page about certain types of things that may come up, what I need to know, what the board needs to know and what is basic operating management information that we do not need to know.
“But we need to have an open and honest conversation to make sure were in alignment.”
Attempts to reach Blackmuns attorney for comment were unsuccessful.
The USOC-commissioned-report outlined how USOC policies, negligence and complicity allowed Nassar and other sexual predators to prey on young athletes undetected.
In addition to failing to take action or notify board members about Nassar, the investigation found that Blackmun and Ashley deleted emails related to Nassar. In at least one instance Blackmun acknowledged “purposely” deleting an email about Nassar.
The USOC paid Ashley $720,044 in 2017.
“Persons in a position of power who cover up for and protect pedophiles may as well be raping children themselves. They are equally guilty. We know that Scott Blackmun knew as early as 1999 that pedophilia was rampant in USA Gymnastics as well as other Olympic sports,” said Robert Allard, a Bay Area attorney who has represented a number of Olympic sport athletes who have been sexually abused by their coaches or officials.
“Being that he was at the time Deputy Executive Director of the USOC, he could have prevented children from being sexually assaulted by coaches and, incredulously, did not take any action other than create draconian rules (i.e. there must be a conviction before action is taken) designed to protect the companys finances, brand and reputation. We also know that Mr. Blackmun, at the time CEO of the USOC, specifically knew about Larry Nassar in 2015 and not only did not do a thing to prevent him from molesting more children but went to great lengths to destroy evidence linking him to knowledge about this serial predator. In my view, he belongs in a jail cell in between Jerry Sandusky and Larry Nassar for as many years as the number of children who he caused to be molested through his callous indifference and utter lack of empathy and human decency.”
Blackmun was invited to testify before a June 5, 2018 Senate subcommittee hearing on sexual abuse within American Olympic sports. He declined citing ongoing medical treatment for prostate cancer. Blackmun did not attend the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea, also citing medical issues.
Blackmun did, however, provide the subcommittee a statement for the record and subsequently answered on the record questions from subcommittee members.
In his written remarks, Blackmun recounted a conversation he had with USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny.
“. . . Mr. Penny told me that after interviewing three athletes and the team doctor, they were concerned [Nassars] treatments were not legitimate. Mr. Penny said that he was going to report this to law enforcement, a decision I fully supported. Mr. Penny also told me that the doctor would no longer have contact with athletes. I spoke to the USOCs safe sport staff after talking to Mr. Penny. My understanding was that reporting the doctor to law enforcement was the most aggressive thing that could be done. I also understood that once it was reported, the issue should be left in the hands of law enforcement—we did not want to interfere with their investigation in any way.”
According to the USOC-commissioned report, Blackmun told Ropes & Gray attorneys that in or about September 2015, he engaged a group of USOC staff, possibly including the USOC Director of Ethics and SafeSport, because he “wanted to make sure that we were doing everything that we should be doing in response and that our response was appropriate.”
“However, independent investigators found no supporting evidence of this follow-up meeting,” Moran and Blumenthal said. “After being confronted with this information, Blackmun recanted his earlier assertion that this engagement took place.
“The results of the independent investigation and Blackmuns own statements to the independent investigators appear to contradict his statement to the Subcommittee that he “spoke to the USOCs safe sport staff after talking to Penny.”
“According to the independent investigators, Blackmun did not speak with Safe Sport staff or any other USOC personnel outside of former Chief of Sport Performance, Alan Ashley, after learning from then-USAG President and CEO Steve Penny about Nassar and the subsequent report to the FBI.”
Blackmun was present during a 1999 conversation when then USA Gymnastics president Robert Colarossi raised concerns about sexual abuse within American Olympic sports, according court documents.
Colarossi detailed in an August 2017 deposition how USOC officials first planned to decertify USA Gymnastics in 1999. The USOC move then was in response to a USA Gymnastics plan to suspend members facing allegations of misconduct until an investigation of those allegations was completed. USOC officials said the USA Gymnastics plan violated the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, passed by Congress in 1978.
Colarossi recalled in the deposition that he was informed of the USOCs move against USA Gymnastics by then USOC president William Hybl during a meeting in Colorado Springs. The USOC headquarters are located in Colorado Springs. Scott Blackmun, then USOC general counsel, was present during the conversation, Colarossi said.
“Bill (Hybl) said — he pulled me aside and said, Membership and credentials (committee) are going to make a motion tomorrow to decertify USA Gymnastics,” Colarossi recalled in the deposition. “And I said to Bill, If you want to have a conversation about being — you know, about not letting us enforce what we think is a really important thing to be able to protect our athletes, and you want to have that conversation in front of God, country, and the national media, Ill see you tomorrow morning. And Bill turned to Scott Blackmun and said, Scott, you need to get this resolved tonight so that membership and credentials will withdraw their motion to decertify us.”
Blackmun returned to the USOC as its CEO in January 2010 after working as AEGs chief operating officer from 2002 to 2006 and later joining Holme Roberts & Owens, a Colorado Springs law firm.
Blackmun told Ropes & Gray that child sexual abuse was “not on my radar” when he took over the USOC in 2010.
“When I started in 2010,” Blackmun said “if someone said what are the top fifteen priorities for the USOC, I wouldnt have had sex abuse on the list.”
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