CHARLOTTE - Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon has been charged with lying to police, making her the third person charged by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in its investigation of the university related to Larry Nassar.
Simon was charged today in Eaton County District Court with two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts.
Simon talked to Michigan State Police in May. Court documents say she made false or misleading statements "that she was not aware of the nature of the complaint that" prompted a 2014 Title IX investigation, according to court documents.
Additionally, "when asked about whether she was aware of any investigation involving Larry Nassar prior to 2016 she falsely or misleadingly said that 'I was aware that in 2014 there was a sports medicine doc who was subject to a review' when in fact she knew it was Larry Nassar who was the subject of the 2014 MSU Title IX investigation," according to court records.
Simon faces up to four years in prison if convicted. An arraignment is set for Monday.
Simon could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Mayer Morganroth, said in an emailed statement: " The only crime committed is the indictment. It is political and completely false and they will pay for it."
Attorney Lee Silver, who also represents Simon, called the charges "completely baseless."
"We are confident that when we have our day in court, Dr. Simon will be exonerated and these charges will be proven to have no merit," Silver said in a telephone interview.
Simon stepped down as president of MSU on Jan. 24, hours after Nassar was sentenced in Ingham County Circuit Court to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse.
MSU interim President John Engler said in a statement that the university is "aware of the charges brought today against former President Simon" and that Simon is taking "an immediate leave of absence, without pay, to focus on her legal situation."
MSU will pay for Simon's legal fees, an MSU spokeswoman said. The university is paying for former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages' attorneys and for part of the criminal defense or former dean William Strampel.
A member of Reclaim MSU, a group of students, faculty, staff and alumni pushing for changes at MSU in the wake of Nassar, called the charges "a good thing."
“I think this is the first step in a long process of holding people at the institution accountable for what happened here,” said Natalie Rogers, an organizer with the group.
John Manly, an attorney who represents many of the victims who sued MSU related to Nassar, said the charges stand in contrast to law enforcement actions against USA Gymnastics.
"I’m just so grateful to the Attorney General's Office," he said. "This sends a message to the people of Michigan and quite frankly to the people in the United States, that no one is above the law."
David Mittleman, who also represents women and girls who sued over Nassar's abuse, said based on his understanding of how Simon managed the day-to-day operations of the university he was surprised when he heard her say she didn't know which doctor was under investigation.
MSU Trustees Joel Ferguson, Brian Mosallam and and Mitch Lyons declined to comment Tuesday. Other board members did not immediately respond to messages.
Strampel, Klages already charged
The Michigan Attorney General's Office announced its investigation into Michigan State University's handling of sexual assault reports against Nassar in January, amid two sentencing hearings for the disgraced former doctor.
Strampel, former dean of osteopathic medicine and one of Nassar's former bosses, was charged in March. He faces a felony charge unrelated to Nassar and two misdemeanor charges for his actions during and after a 2014 Title IX investigation of Nassar.
In August, the AG's Office charged former MSU gymnastics coach Klages with a felony and misdemeanor charge of lying to police about her knowledge of sexual assault complaints against Nassar prior to 2016.
Both Strampel and Klages are are awaiting trial in Ingham County Circuit Court.
The AG's Office has said that investigators have interviewed more than 500 people, including "all Nassar survivors that wanted to be interviewed, as well as MSU faculty and staff, coaches, and members of the community."
Nassar, 55, formerly of Holt, sexually abused hundreds of women and girls, many at his MSU office. He's serving a 60-year federal sentence on three child pornography convictions and was sentenced to decades more in prison on 10 sexual assault convictions in state courts.
In May, MSU agreed to settle with more than 300 plaintiffs who sued over Nassar's abuse for $500 million.
The 2014 Title IX investigation has been the subject of much of the criticism against MSU, the Board of Trustees and university officials.
MSU opened the investigation in 2014 after Amanda Thomashow, who at the time was a recent graduate, said Nassar sexually assaulted her during a medical appointment in his university office. Nassar was suspended from clinical duties during the Title IX investigation.
The investigation cleared Nassar of any policy violations, in part, by relying on the opinions of four medical experts who all worked for MSU and had close ties to Nassar. The Title IX investigator wrote two final reports, the only time over a three year stretch that was done, and gave Thomashow a report with a shorter conclusion section.
The report with the longer conclusion section went to Nassar, his boss, academic human resources and attorneys in the MSU Office of General Counsel, who were aware of the investigation and received updates on it while it was ongoing, university records show.
Thomashow’s report also prompted a criminal investigation by the university police department, which went on for 16 months longer than the Title IX investigation. MSU allowed him to resume seeing patients before that investigation ended. More than 20 women and girls have said they were abused during those 16 months.
MSU police requested misdemeanor charges against Nassar, but Ingham County prosecutors denied the request.
Simon, MSU Board of Trustees under fire during Nassar case
Simon had been criticized for much of 2017 over MSU's handling of Nassar but kept the support of MSU's Board of Trustees. But as the national spotlight turned onto the case, that support began to waver.
Simon attended the second day of Nassar's sentencing and, during a break answered, questions from reporters. Lindsey Lemke, a former MSU gymnast whom Nassar abused, confronted Simon.
"It has been very clear that she has always tried to hide from this situation and only protect herself and now we know why," Lemke said in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday. "She knew all along that Nassar should not have been treating us but yet she chose to not do the right thing and continued to employ Nassar at Michigan State University."
Five days before Simon's resignation, trustees meet for several hours behind closed doors and emerged with a statement that read, in part, "We continue to believe President Simon is the right leader for the university and she has our support.”
But the next day Trustee Mitch Lyons called on Simon to step down. Trustee Dianne Byrum followed suit.
Members of MSU's Faculty Senate called for a vote of no confidence in Simon the day before she resigned.
As the accusations against Nassar came to light and grew in number, Simon was repeatedly questioned about MSU’s response to sexual misconduct complaints. She was criticized for comments widely seen as deflecting the university’s responsibility.
Simon said at a Board of Trustees meeting in April of 2017 that experts had told her it’s "virtually impossible to stop a determined sexual predator and pedophile," given the lengths they will go to hide their conduct.
Eight months later, in December, she apologized to Nassar’s victims by saying, in part, "I'm sorry a physician who called himself a Spartan so utterly betrayed your trust and everything this university stands for.”
During testimony in front of a U.S. Senate subcommittee in June of this year, Simon repeated claims that no one at MSU knew of Nassar’s criminal behavior before 2016.
“Had I known that Nassar was sexually abusing young women, I would have taken immediate action to prevent him from preying on additional victims, including terminating his employment and reporting him to the police,” she told members of the subcommittee.
Simon became MSU’s first female president at the start of 2005 after serving as provost for more than a decade.
Contact Matt Mencarini at (517) 267-1347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MattMencarini. Contact Kara Berg at 517-377-1113 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @karaberg95. Contact RJ Wolcott at (517) 377-1026 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wolcottr.
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