WASHINGTON – Federal prison officials have allowed Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor accused of sexually abusing hundreds of girls and women, to avoid paying financial penalties that are part of his sentence – even as he spent more than $10,000 from his Federal Bureau of Prisons account while behind bars, according to a new court filing.
The spending details are contained in a prosecutor’s motion Wednesday that seeks to force the Bureau of Prisons to turn over Nassar’s current prison account balance to help cover a court-ordered payment of $5,300 to the federal Crime Victims Fund.
Bureau of Prisons officials have required Nassar to pay only about $100 a year, according to court papers, or about $300 since he entered the federal prison system in late 2017 after pleading guilty to receiving and possessing child pornography.
During the same period, Nassar spent more than $10,000 through his government-run prison account that covers commissary, email and phone expenses, a situation that one former law enforcement official called an egregious example of how the agency fails crime victims.
“Nassar has paid approximately $8.33 toward his criminal monetary penalties per month, despite receiving deposits into his account over this period totaling $12,825.00,” said the filing by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Fauson. It reported Nassar’s current account balance as $2,041.57.
The Washington Post reported last month that the bureau allows inmates to keep unlimited amounts of money in their accounts and effectively shields much of that money from collection by various entities, leaving the Justice Department in the odd position of having to file court cases to force one of its own agencies to turn over money owed to crime victims or for other debts.
“If the Bureau of Prisons isn’t enforcing these policies with Larry Nassar – who is among the worst of offenders – then which inmates are held to account?” said Jason Wojdylo, who retired from the U.S. Marshals Service months ago after spending years unsuccessfully trying to convince the Bureau of Prisons to make felons pay court orders and other debts.
Nassar – whose alleged victims include gymnastics star Simone Biles and several former Olympians – has seen $12,825 move through his prison account over the last 3 1/2 years, the court filing said, including two payments for covid-19-related stimulus from the federal government totaling $2,000.
“The notion that anybody in the Justice Department would let this happen is just revolting,” said John Manly, a lawyer for many of Nassar’s victims, including Biles, who withdrew from Olympic competition this week, citing mental stress. “The timing of this, with my client being unable to compete because of what happened to her, couldn’t be more upsetting. . . . They’re allowing the worst child predator in American history to spend thousands of dollars on himself and pay $8 a month to his victims. Something is completely broken and needs to be fixed.”
A December 2017 court document related to Nassar’s federal plea calls for a minimum payment of $25 every three months to cover what he owes in federal judgments. “All monies received from income tax refunds, lottery winnings, judgments, and/or any other anticipated or unexpected financial gains to any outstanding court-ordered financial obligations must be applied,” the document states.
The court filing says Nassar has not paid any of the $57,488.52 he was ordered to give five of his victims in the child pornography case, who are identified only as Child 10, Child 11, Child 28, Child 29 and Child 30.
In addition, state court records show Nassar still owes $834 in the Eaton County, Mich., case in which he pleaded guilty to charges of abusing children.
Nassar, who is being held at a high-security prison in central Florida, is serving the equivalent of a life sentence on the state and federal charges, which together make up one of the most egregious serial sex-abuse cases in recent memory. His victims say law enforcement and USA Gymnastics officials ignored the problem for years, allowing the abuse to continue.
The prison-spending figures in the court filing indicate that Nassar is paying the bare minimum required by the Bureau of Prisons’ “inmate financial responsibility” program to maintain prison privileges, such as being able to use email and make phone calls. At this rate, he would ultimately pay only about $500 of the $5,300 he owes because under federal rules, special-assessment debt is canceled after five years.
“The inaction of BOP inmate financial responsibility program officials is outrageous,” Wojdylo said. “This sexual predator’s young victims had an opportunity to receive some financial reparation over the past 3 1/2 years. Instead, BOP has enabled a nominal $25 contribution every three months toward his debt, while he presumably spent thousands of dollars on snacks and other privileges.”
Neither the Bureau of Prisons nor an attorney representing Nassar immediately replied to a request for comment.
Nassar is hardly alone in keeping money in his prison account. Nearly two dozen federal inmates have more than $100,000 each in their Bureau of Prisons accounts, and all prisoner accounts totaled more than $100 million in May, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal data.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday that the details of Nassar’s spending “give the appearance that the Department of Justice places greater importance on Nassar’s comfort than on collecting the debt he owes his victims.”
The lawmaker urged Garland to “review the policies that facilitate this egregious miscarriage of justice” and “implement corrective action as quickly as possible.”
Some law enforcement officials at other federal agencies say the bureau should review those funds and seize money that inmates have been ordered to pay. The Bureau of Prisons counters that Treasury Department screening rules that apply to banks don’t apply to their prisoner accounts because the agency is not a financial institution.
The bureau, already plagued with staffing and management problems, has defended its prisoner account system and said it “encourages” inmates to pay what they owe.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the latest Nassar revelations “sickening” and accused the Bureau of Prisons of stonewalling his committee’s demands for answers.
Wednesday’s court filing marks the second time this month that a federal agency has been accused of failing Nassar’s victims.
A scathing report released July 14 from the Justice Department inspector general found that FBI agents failed to properly investigate allegations that Nassar was sexually abusing girls and women under the guise of medical treatments, apparently allowing dozens more people to be victimized. When confronted, the FBI officials lied rather than admit what they had done, the inspector general found.
Nassar has been accused of sexual abuse by more than 330 girls and women – including Olympians Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.
The internal review of the FBI’s handling of the initial allegations against Nassar was launched in 2018, shortly after Nassar was sentenced to a 60-year term for possessing and receiving child pornography, and a state court sentence of 40 to 175 years for assaulting girls.
After receiving the first set of allegations about Nassar from USA Gymnastics in 2015, FBI officials in Indianapolis – where USA Gymnastics is headquartered – decided to refer them to a satellite office in Lansing, Mich., where Nassar was employed by Michigan State University and where some of the abuse allegedly took place.
But the internal investigation found no document showing the referral occurred. FBI officials did not contact local law enforcement officials in Michigan to alert them to possible violations of state law being committed by Nassar, the report concluded.
A year later in 2016, USA Gymnastics officials brought the same allegations against Nassar to the FBI office in Los Angeles, and again the case went nowhere.
The inspector general found that although FBI agents in Los Angeles pursued the issue more aggressively, they were unsure whether Nassar had broken any federal laws. At no point, the inspector general found, did the FBI in Indianapolis open a formal investigation or even an assessment.