Karolyis sue USOC, USA Gymnastics; state they had no knowledge of Larry Nassar abuse

Former Olympic coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi have filed a lawsuit against the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, claiming they should not be held responsible for sexual abuse committed at their famed ranch by disgraced former team doctor Larry Nassar.

The lawsuit, filed in late April in Walker County, Texas, and first reported by the Houston Chronicle, states, "The Karolyis were first informed of possible misconduct by Nassar in 2015, when USAG contacted Martha and told her that Nassar would not be returning to USAG because of treatment concerns."

"USAG then asked the Karolyis not to further discuss the matter," the lawsuit states.

The Karolyis further allege nobody from USAG ever told them the allegations against Nassar were of a sexual nature. The Karolyis didn't learn about the exact nature of Nassar's conduct until sometime after the 2016 Summer Olympics, according to the lawsuit.

The Karolyis' Houston-based attorney, Gary Jewell, did not respond to requests for comment. They are seeking more than $1 million in damages.

The so-called "Karolyi Ranch," built on roughly 40 acres bordering Sam Houston National Forest, was purchased in 1983. Since 2001, a portion of the Texas facility was set aside to be the U.S. Women's National Team Training Center.

The Karolyis had a series of lease agreements with USA Gymnastics and, in 2016, agreed to sell the ranch to the sport's governing body for more than $3 million.

"The women's national team has been training at the Karolyi Ranch since the turn of the century. ... Athletes of all ages and skill levels are impacted by the prestige and tradition embodied at the ranch, and we are excited to continue the legacy of success," former USAG president Steve Penny said at the time of the purchase.

In recent months, several former national team gymnasts have filed lawsuits against the USOC, USAG, the Karolyis, Nassar and others, alleging Nassar sexually assaulted them at the ranch under the guise of medical treatment. Multiple national team gymnasts told ESPN that Nassar had access to them in their cabins, alone, and that he would digitally penetrate them claiming he was treating their injuries.

At the ranch, where elite gymnasts trained roughly one week a month, the national team members were under strict rules. No parents were allowed to accompany even the gymnasts who were minors. Diets were strictly monitored.

In their lawsuit, the Karolyis say they "did not attempt to oversee USAG's hired doctor," and they did not receive "a single warning as to the possible inappropriate behavior of the doctor during his medical procedures."

John Manly, an Irvine, California-based attorney, represents more than a dozen former national team gymnasts who allege they were sexually abused by Nassar at the Karolyi Ranch, during a period in which Martha Karolyi was the national team coordinator.

"All of them were abused at the ranch and most of them loathe Bela and Martha," Manly said of his clients. "They were abused on overseas trips where Martha was in charge. This isn't just about the Karolyi Ranch. The Karolyis' effort to rewrite the facts and shirk responsibility is despicable but not surprising," Manly added.

An October 2016 lawsuit, filed on behalf of one of Manly's clients, former national team gymnast Mattie Larson, detailed a list of alleged verbal and physical abuse at the Karolyi Ranch.

Among other things, Larson's lawsuit accused the Karolyis of:

  • Striking the gymnasts, scratching them until they bled and encouraging parents to hit their children.

  • Depriving gymnasts of food and water and searching the gymnasts' rooms to find and confiscate hidden food.

  • Screaming obscenities at the gymnasts; telling them that they were fat; and requiring them to strip to their underwear so that their physical appearance could be judged in front of their peers.

In that environment, created largely by the Karolyis, Larson and others have said Nassar was the "good cop," the smiling doctor who often provided them comfort.

The Karolyis' lawsuit denies Nassar's abuse was related to "any supposed 'toxic environment' at the National Team Training Center but occurred almost everywhere Nassar worked."

In January, USAG announced it was cutting ties with the Karolyi Ranch. The decision was announced after a series of national team gymnasts revealed Nassar abused them at the training facility.

"USAG used the close relationship between itself and the Karolyis to its benefit and then disregarded the Karolyis when they no longer felt it expedient to keep them close," the Karolyis' lawsuit states.

It was in the late spring of 2015, inside the Karolyi Ranch, that visiting coach Sarah Jantzi first overheard a troubling conversation between Maggie Nichols, Jantzi's star gymnast, and Aly Raisman, captain of the 2012 and 2016 gold-medal-winning Olympic teams.

Raisman told ESPN that in the conversation Nichols described treatment sessions she'd had with Nassar. Jantzi, upon hearing the conversation, became so concerned about what she overheard that she notified Nichols' mother and USA Gymnastics officials. Maggie Nichols said Nassar started sexually abusing her during medical exams at the Karolyi Ranch when she was 15, while she was being treated for severe back pain.

Raisman said Nassar started abusing her when she also was 15. She said he would give her desserts as treats, which were forbidden at the ranch.

"He was grooming me so he could molest me," Raisman said.

In December 2017, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. In January, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in Michigan for 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The Karolyis' lawsuit points out that none of those criminal convictions stem from incidents that happened at their ranch.

"This is just the latest in a carefully prepared public relations effort to hide the facts and it will not work, and it won't work because their victims are no longer silent," Manly said.

More than 300 women are now suing Nassar; his former full-time employer, Michigan State University; USA Gymnastics; and others, alleging they were sexually abused during medical exams.

The parties to the lawsuit will continue mediation talks later this month.