Larry Nassar

Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State via USA TODAY NETWORK

Former Gymnastics Trainer Who Worked With Larry Nassar Charged With Sex Assault

June 29, 2018 - 7:17 pm
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DALLAS (WCBS 880/AP) — A former trainer who worked alongside imprisoned ex-sports doctor Larry Nassar at the famed Karolyi gymnastics ranch in Texas was charged Friday with sexual assault. But prosecutors said there wasn't evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the couple who ran the facility, former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi.

A grand jury indicted former 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 his assaults. Nassar — who is already serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography in Michigan — also was indicted Friday on six counts of the same charge.

Walker County prosecutor Stephanie Stroud said the charges involved six victims but didn't provide details of the alleged assaults when announcing the charges at a news conference in Huntsville. When asked for specifics about the allegations against Van Horn, Walker County District Attorney David Weeks said only that she was charged as "acting as a party" with Nassar.

Nassar was sentenced earlier this year in Michigan, after hundreds of women and girls accused him of sexually abusing them under the guise of medical treatment. They said the abuse went back decades, including while he worked for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which is responsible for training Olympic gymnasts.

One of those victims, Mattie Larson, testified during a sentencing hearing 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 Texas charges stem from an investigation launched in January at the famed gymnastics training center just outside Huntsville that was run by the Karolyis and used by USA Gymnastics. Last month, five former gymnasts implored authorities to determine whether the Karolyis could have prevented abuse at their facility. Two gymnasts said Nassar abused them there.

Stroud said Friday that no charges were filed against the Karolyis, who have denied knowledge of any mistreatment at their since-closed facility about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Houston.

"Bela and Marta Karolyi were interviewed at length. The Karolyis were and remain fully cooperative with this investigation," Stroud said.

But, she added: "It's our belief that there was a total failure by USAG (USA Gymnastics) to protect athletes that were part of their program and to take appropriate action once they were made aware of Dr. Nassar's actions."

Stroud said investigators tried to determine if anyone at the ranch knew about Nassar's alleged assaults and didn't report them. 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," she said.

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

The Karolyis are suing USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, seeking damages for the canceled sale of their training center — a transaction that tanked in the wake of the Nassar sex-abuse cases. They're seeking more than $1 million in damages.

A call by The Associated Press to a phone number listed for Bela Karolyi wasn't answered Friday.

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 while she trained at the Karolyi ranch.

Weeks, the local district attorney, said Friday he wants to eventually bring Nassar to Texas to face the charges. Nassar is currently housed at a federal prison in Arizona.

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.