FBI Mishandled Serious Child and Sex Crimes Years before Nassar, According to 2003 Letter from Whistleblower Attorney

FBI Whistleblower

*Please be advised that this article contains sensitive themes relating to sex abuse and child crimes.

This April, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a settlement to pay $138 million in 139 claims regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) failures in investigating sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, the former physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. According to whistleblower attorney Stephen M. Kohn, the FBI’s mishandling of the Nassar case was not an anomaly but a product of a pattern of FBI cover-ups of sex abuse, for which the agency receives impunity.

Kohn, a founding partner at Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, represented FBI whistleblower Jane Turner in a case involving the FBI’s cover-up of sex abuse and child crimes on Native American reservations. In 2003, Kohn penned a letter to the DOJ, formally requesting that they “make a referral to an independent agency for a formal investigation into misconduct within the FBI concerning that agency’s failure to investigate and prosecute serious crimes against children.”

“Whistleblowers and whistleblower advocates have brought this same issue to the attention of the Department of Justice for at least two decades. If they had listened to us back in the early 2000s, at least dozens of young girls would not have had to endure this trauma,” said Kohn.

There are strong parallels between the misconduct that occurred in the FBI’s investigation of the cases that Turner reported and the misconduct that occurred about 15 years later in the Nassar case, which is extensively detailed in a 2021 report by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General. Both, for instance, failed to interview known victims (Kohn, p. 10; DOJ, p. iii and iv). Both also failed to properly investigate credible and serious allegations.

The July 2021 DOJ OIG Report stated that the FBI failed to respond to the allegations against Nassar with the “utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and failed to notify state or local authorities of the allegations or take other steps to mitigate the ongoing threat posed by Nassar.”

Likewise, Kohn’s 2003 letter explains how the FBI failed to respond to credible and concerning allegations, relying instead on “hearsay statements from a convicted pedophile in determining whether to conduct a search” and, therefore, not gathering critical evidence.

After explaining evidence of mishandling of investigations in numerous child rape and molestation cases on Indian reservations, Kohn’s 2003 letter stated that “the depth of failure to conduct proper investigations appears to be systemic and ongoing.”

Among the many devastating truths of the Nassar case, it is alarming to know that had the FBI been held accountable for and remedied the issues identified in Turner’s case, it could have possibly prevented dozens of victims from being abused by Nassar.

The FBI opened an investigation into Nassar in 2015 after USA Gymnastics president and CEO finally reported allegations made by gymnast, survivor, and whistleblower Maggie Nichols. However, due to the prolonged action and mishandling of the case by the FBI, Nassar continued to sexually assault an estimated 70 more athletes over 16 months.

After the 2021 DOJ OIG Report on the Nassar case was published, Jane Turner spoke with Rolling Stone, explaining problems endemic to the FBI, such as a toxic white-male-dominated culture of agents who are motivated by action-packed crime investigations yet unmotivated and grossly unprepared to handle serious child and sex crimes.

She explained that the even bigger problem is the lack of oversight and accountability. The Special Agent in Charge of the Nassar case, W. Jay Abbot, has retired and remained unpunished despite making false statements about his office’s failures and lying about his conflict of interest with USA Gymnastics.

National Whistleblower Center believes that a key part of addressing these systemic issues is ensuring that whistleblower complaints against the FBI can be received anonymously and swiftly acted upon while protecting the whistleblower’s anonymity.

In both distinct cases, whistleblowers faced extreme retaliation, including Turner, who was retaliated against by the FBI after she reported their wrongdoing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and Nichols, who was retaliated against by USA Gymnastics for escalating complaints against Nassar.

“Often, we find out about these serious cover-ups through whistleblowers who have displayed immense resilience in pursuit of justice,” said Executive Director of National Whistleblower Center, Siri Nelson. “Fixing systemic problems in law enforcement’s handling of these cases requires making it safer and easier for whistleblowers to report. It needs to be easier to identify misconduct and harder to silence those who speak out.”

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