A trove of documents central to a sexual abuse investigation and long sought by investigators in Texas were found by USA Gymnastics officials at their headquarters in Indianapolis, pushing the U.S. Olympic Committee this week to avert the possibility of another scandal and move to take over the sports federation.
The belated discovery of the documents, and questions about who handled them or knew about them, led the U.S. Olympic Committee to move Monday to seize control of USA Gymnastics, according to the Olympic committee, which had also grown increasingly alarmed by turmoil in the management of the federation.
Although it is not clear whether the discovery of the documents points to somebody trying to hide them, Olympic committee officials said they decided they could not abide that possibility leading to more turbulence in a popular and successful sport consisting of thousands of athletes, including Olympians, looking for new direction.
The investigators consider the documents central to an investigation into gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar and his sexual abuse of gymnasts at the now-shuttered women’s gymnastics training center in southeast Texas.
Several former gymnasts have said Nassar sexually assaulted them at the training center under the guise of performing medical procedures. Nassar is serving effectively a life sentence in prison for multiple counts of criminal sexual misconduct and child pornography.
Law enforcement officials in Walker County, Texas, the site of the training center — which is known as the Karolyi ranch, after Bela and Martha Karolyi, the coaches who own the property — said last month that they had not been able to find the documents they believed should have been there.
As of Thursday morning, the documents remained at the USA Gymnastics office. David P. Weeks, district attorney for Walker County, said Thursday that USA Gymnastics would be served a subpoena later in the day.
Steve Penny, who was chief executive of USA Gymnastics when dozens of athletes and former athletes began going public with accusations that Nassar had sexually abused them, had ordered the removal of those documents from the ranch two years ago after Texas Rangers investigating Nassar were denied access to the property. At the time, the Rangers did not have a warrant, and USA Gymnastics said in a statement Wednesday that it was never served a subpoena or a warrant for the documents.
Federation officials said they asked prosecutors Saturday to formally ask for the documents, asserting they could not simply turn them over because those documents contain “personally identifying information.”
Walker County prosecutors said they never served USA Gymnastics with a subpoena because they were under the impression that the organization did not have the documents.
“Our investigators were told by everyone that Steve Penny was in possession of the documents, and Kerry Perry even testified to Congress that USA Gymnastics didn’t have the records,” said Stephanie Stroud, the first assistant district attorney in Walker County. “So it’s kind of interesting that the documents just showed up.”
A grand jury in Walker County indicted Penny on Sept. 28 on allegations that he knowingly concealed or destroyed the documents. Last month, he was arrested on a felony charge of evidence tampering and has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Penny’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said this week that Penny, who resigned from USA Gymnastics under pressure in 2017, never had possession of the documents and did not know where they might have ended up. Penny said the last he knew was that an employee of the organization had shipped them to the federation’s Indianapolis headquarters. Hardin called the situation “a colossal misunderstanding” that prosecutors assumed Penny ever had the documents, much less doctored or destroyed them.
Hardin insisted Thursday that his client had nothing to do with the documents going missing — because, he said, they apparently never went missing.
“The documents haven’t just showed up, nobody has officially ever asked for them,” he said. “I know at the end of the day that it’s going to be determined that Steve had nothing to do with these documents after he had them removed from the ranch on the advice of counsel.”
Weeks, the criminal district attorney, said that Penny did not cooperate with investigators who initially were looking for the documents. He said he would not know how the latest revelation would affect Penny’s criminal case until he sees the documents himself.
“We’ve got to find out where the documents have been, who had them and how they ended up where they did just now,” Weeks said. “There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered, but let me just tell you that we were surprised when we got the letter from USA Gymnastics.”
It is unclear who at USA Gymnastics headquarters might have known the whereabouts of the documents, or for how long, or who reported their whereabouts to the Olympic committee.