US reaches $138.7 million civil settlement with victims of Larry Nassar

FILE PHOTO: Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department has reached a $138.7 million civil settlement with hundreds of victims of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is serving time in prison for sexually abusing athletes under his care, the agency said on Tuesday.

The settlement resolves claims the FBI botched the initial investigation into Nassar, the Justice Department said.

"These allegations should have been taken seriously from the outset," Benjamin Mizer, the acting U.S. associate attorney general, said in a statement. "While these settlements won’t undo the harm Nassar inflicted, our hope is that they will help give the victims of his crimes some of the critical support they need to continue healing."

Nassar, the main doctor for Olympic gymnasts for 18 years, was sentenced in federal court in 2017 to 60 years in prison on charges of possessing child sex abuse material. The following year, Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years and up to 125 years, respectively, in two separate Michigan courts for molesting female gymnasts under his care.

U.S. Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and McKayla Maroney were among the victims who publicly criticized the FBI over its handling of the probe.

The settlement resolves 139 separate claims, the department said. The women accused the FBI of failing to act on evidence it received in 2015, allowing Nassar to continue sexually abusing young women and girls until he was charged in 2016.

"We are proud to have achieved a monumental settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, that not only secures the recovery the survivors deserve but also holds the DOJ and FBI accountable for their failures," four lawyers who represented 77 of the victims said in a statement

A report by the Justice Department's internal watchdog in 2021 uncovered widespread errors by the FBI, including failing to promptly interview potential victims and document interviews.

The Justice Department opted not to bring criminal charges against agents involved in the probe in 2022, standing by an earlier decision.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward in Washington and Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)