Oh my: Former USA Gymnastics chief arrested for tampering

The last we heard from Steve Penny, the former USA Gymnastics president claimed he had told people within the organization not to talk about Larry Nassar in order to protect the privacy of gymnasts. After a surprising arrest last night in a Tennessee cabin, however, investigators revealed a secret indictment alleging Penny removed records relating to Nassar before investigators could track them down. Penny now faces as much as ten years in prison for tampering:

Steve Penny, who resigned last year as president and chief executive of USA Gymnastics, was arrested by a fugitive task force in Tennessee on Wednesday night, almost three weeks after he was secretly indicted on felony charges of tampering with evidence in the Larry Nassar molestation scandal, authorities said.

Penny was arrested in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement that revealed that he was indicted Sept. 28 by a Walker County, Texas, grand jury.

According to a summary of the indictment released by Walker County prosecutors, Penny ordered the removal of documents from the Karolyi Ranch, where powerhouse Olympic teams were built and where some athletes say they were molested by Nassar, the longtime team doctor. Nassar was sentenced in February to as long as 125 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to molesting 10 girls.

The issue of the missing records has been known for some time. It came up in congressional hearings when interrogating a former USAG about attempts to hide Nassar’s conduct. Rhonda Faehn told Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) that Penny had ordered a lower-level employee to remove the records and send them to him:

Faehn, a former senior vice president at USA Gymnastics, said Penny ordered USA Gymnastics employee Amy White to remove medical records from the Karolyi Ranch and bring them to Indianapolis.

White, who is listed as the national team’s manager/program travel manager of USA Gymnastics’ Acrobatic Gymnastics Program, said she used “a large suitcase and 2 large boxes” to remove the records, Faehn later told U.S. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, in response to written questions.

Law enforcement still hasn’t found the records, and it seems unlikely that they will, short of Penny’s cooperation in an attempt to get out from under an indictment. Penny resigned in March 2017, which would mean that if the records still existed, current staff should have been able to locate them in the corporate headquarters in the intervening year and a half since his departure. Law enforcement must figure that either Penny still has them or they no longer exist. Indictment and arrest is one way to find out.

What could have been in those records from the Karolyi Ranch? As the clip from NBC’s Today program shows, the Karolyis have claimed all along that they had no clue what Nassar was doing to the girls. If that’s the case, why would Penny hide those records from investigators? The Karolyis had no comment today on Penny’s indictment and arrest, but Walker County prosecutors hinted that there’s more yet to uncover at the ranch, the IndyStar reports:

When IndyStar asked about the missing records in June, USA Gymnastics declined comment “due to ongoing investigations and pending litigation.” The national governing body could not immediately be reached Thursday for comment on Penny’s indictment.

The Walker County criminal district attorney’s office said investigators believe the records are “material to their investigation and that the removal of the records by Penny prevented them from reviewing documents that would have helped in their investigation” of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, “as well as assisted with the investigation of other offenses that may have occurred at the Karolyi Ranch.”

Just how much else happened there? We may never find out, and that may have been the point of the records transfer. If White testifies that she delivered the records to Penny and he can’t produce them, he’s going to have a very unpleasant time in court. If he does still have them and produces them, then a few other people might have a worse trip through the justice system. It’s unbelievable that we have not yet fully plumbed the depths of depravity at USA Gymnastics, but perhaps this arrest gets us closer to that goal.