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Olympic organizations face multiple investigations by Justice Department, state attorneys general

Several Olympic organizations are facing multiple inquiries at the state and federal level. (Leo Correa/AP)

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating several American Olympic sports organizations — including the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo — for their handling of allegations of sexual abuse committed by coaches and officials as well as for possible financial wrongdoing, according to several people with knowledge of the investigations.

Separately, the attorneys general in California and Indiana also have opened investigations into Olympic sports organizations that do business in those states, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post and people with knowledge of the probes.

More than 18 months after the sentencing hearing of serial pedophile and former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sparked national outrage — and with preparations ramping up for Team USA athletes in advance of next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo — the various investigations demonstrate that fallout from the Nassar scandal is perhaps far from over.

The investigations, first reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal, date to at least last year, when the Nassar case prompted several congressional inquiries into how Nassar was able to avoid justice for so long and also into the broader issue of sex abuse in Olympic sports. A grand jury has been convened in D.C., and in recent months elite swimmers, gymnasts and taekwondo athletes have testified, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. Federal authorities also have requested documents from the USOPC and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a nonprofit that opened in 2017 to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in Olympic sports.

“Every instance related to potential or actual abuse of athletes warrants thorough investigation,” USOPC spokesman Mark Jones said. “We have cooperated with all government inquiries and will continue to do so.”

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A spokesman for the Center for SafeSport, in a statement, wrote: “While the issues being investigated likely predate the US Center for SafeSport, we understand the Department’s interest in the independent Center’s mission and how it addresses sexual misconduct . . . we are providing information when it’s requested.”

An FBI spokeswoman and a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

Federal prosecutors from D.C. have traveled to Indiana multiple times this year to interview people with knowledge of several Olympic sports organizations based there, including USA Gymnastics and USA Track and Field, according to people familiar with the discussions. Investigators with the IRS have participated in these interviews, according to these people, along with officials from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.

USA Gymnastics and USA Track and Field, like most Olympic sports organizations, are incorporated as nonprofits and are subject to oversight by both the IRS and attorneys general offices in the states where they operate. While investigators’ areas of interest in the sex abuse-related lines of inquiry are relatively clear — who at various Olympic organizations knew what, and when, about Nassar and others suspected of abuse, and if they cooperated with previous investigations and Congress — the financial areas of interest in these investigations are unclear.

“USA Gymnastics is striving to become an athlete-centric organization that keeps athlete safety and well-being at the forefront of everything it does,” the organization said in a statement. “USA Gymnastics has cooperated fully with any governmental investigation and will continue to do so in the future.”

USA Track and Field officials did not immediately reply to a request to comment Friday, nor did officials with the IRS.

The Office of the Indiana Attorney General issued a statement saying its investigation into USA Gymnastics is ongoing: “The Attorney General continues to monitor and participate in the bankruptcy proceedings involving USAG and as updates are appropriate will release further information. With regard to USA Track and Field, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.”

Separately, the California Attorney General’s Office has requested documents from USA Swimming relating to more than a dozen coaches and officials the organization banned for suspected sexual misconduct, according to internal USA Swimming emails from April reviewed by The Post.

Among the former USA Swimming coaches the California Attorney General’s Office has asked about, according to the emails, was Sean Hutchison, a prominent coach accused of sexual abuse last year by former Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors . Hutchison has denied these allegations and said he had a consensual relationship with Kukors when she was 23 and he was 41. Kukors has sued USA Swimming over her alleged abuse.

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A USA Swimming spokeswoman deferred questions about this investigation to the California Attorney General’s Office, which did not immediately reply to a request to comment Friday.

USA Taekwondo — like many Olympic sports organizations, headquartered in Colorado — has been accused by several former elite female athletes in lawsuits of ignoring allegations of abuse made against brothers Jean and Steven Lopez. Jean Lopez, a former USA Taekwondo coach, and Steven Lopez, a two-time Olympic champion in the sport, have denied the allegations, which have not resulted in any criminal charges.

“While we are limited in what we can say while legal proceedings move forward, we want to state clearly that above all else, our top priority at USA Taekwondo is the safety of our athletes,” Steve McNally, executive director for USA Taekwondo, wrote in a statement. “We believe that abusive or predatory behavior has no place in our sport.”

The news of several seemingly overlapping federal and state investigations — one person who has spoken with investigators termed it “a feeding frenzy” — was greeted with celebration by lawyers for abuse victims.

“The US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, the FBI, their senior executives and others who enabled Larry Nassar’s abuse of our Olympic athletes and hundreds of other young girls must be brought to justice,” said John Manly, attorney for hundreds of alleged Nassar victims. “I am convinced that this investigation only happened because of the courage of survivors, publicly revealing the pain and suffering caused by their abuse to Congress, in court and in the media.”

Manly’s criticism of the FBI refers to that agency’s response to several complaints by elite gymnasts about Nassar touching them improperly starting in July 2015. Nassar continued to work with elite young gymnasts and children through his job at Michigan State University until August 2016, when Rachael Denhollander, a victim from years prior, filed a complaint with local law enforcement in Michigan and told her story to the Indianapolis Star. The FBI’s handling of those early complaints has been the subject of a review by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The problem of sex abuse in Olympic sports — where coaches can acquire powerful influence over young athletes, with historically lax oversight from Olympic organizations — emerged in scandals dating from the late 1990s, involving sports such as volleyball, gymnastics, swimming, and mixed martial arts.

But it took the sentencing hearing for Nassar in January 2018 — and the televised images of dozens of women and girls tearfully recounting their experiences, the ignored warning signs and red flags, and a culture in the sport they felt enabled abuse — to galvanize action and interest from Congress and federal law enforcement.

“We are pleased to see that at long last the government is moving to hold criminally responsible those who knew and did nothing,” said Robert Allard, a California attorney who has represented several victims in swimming and other sports. “We will not begin to see true movement in child protection reforms in sport unless all enablers are put behind bars.”

Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.