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Former Ohio State wrestlers call for investigation into university's ties to Jeffrey Epstein

The ex-wrestlers who say they were abused by Dr. Richard Strauss wrote a letter calling on the Ohio inspector general to investigate OSU's connection to Epstein.
Image: A protester holds up a placard with a photo of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the federal courthouse
A protester holds up a photo of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the federal courthouse on July 8, 2019, in New York.Stephanie Keith / Getty Images file

Five of the former Ohio State University wrestlers who have accused their alma mater of failing to protect them from Dr. Richard Strauss have formally asked the state’s inspector general to investigate the school’s relationship with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.

In addition, the wrestlers requested that Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer probe allegations that Abigail Wexner -- who along with her husband, Leslie, are two of OSU’s biggest benefactors -- “helped Jeffrey Epstein sexually assault a young woman named Maria Farmer."

Farmer has claimed that she was assaulted in 1996 by Epstein at an Ohio property “owned and secured” by the Wexners.

“We turn to you for help, primarily because of Abigail Wexner’s status as Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees at OSU,” the wrestlers wrote in a Feb. 7 letter obtained by NBC News. “Given these public allegations against Mrs. Wexner, it is extremely difficult for us to comprehend why OSU maintains its relationship with Abigail Wexner and her family.”

Their appeal to Meyer comes two months after they asked Ohio Attorney General David Yost and U.S. Attorney David Devillers on Dec. 5 to investigate the Farmer rape allegations.

In their new letter, the wrestlers said Yost told them he could not get involved unless the local prosecutor asked for help, a response they dismissed as “bureaucratic nihilism.” The letter said that Devillers did not respond at all.

“We ask that you investigate the ‘wrongful acts’ of Abigail Wexner regarding Maria Farmer,” the letter said. “If not you, who else can we turn to?”

NBC News has reached out to Yost’s office for comment.

OIG spokesman James Manken said they received the new letter Monday and were looking into it.

“The complaint will go through the normal complaint evaluation process,” Manken wrote in an email. “During the process, the office will determine whether or not the office has jurisdiction over the subject matter; if the facts contained within the complaint warrant further investigation; and if we are the best office to investigate the matter; among other criteria.”

Dunyasha Yetts, one of the five former wrestlers, said they went to bat for Farmer because she too has received the brushoff from OSU. Yetts is one of the 350 former OSU students who have filed 17 lawsuits against the university alleging school officials and team coaches knew Strauss was sexually abusing them but failed to stop him.

“Ohio State has shown that, without maximum public pressure, it will turn a blind eye to sexual predators,” the letter to Meyer states. “It ignored the reports of Richard Strauss’s abuse and it is now looking the other way on Jeffrey Epstein and Abigail Wexner.”

The other former OSU wrestlers who signed the letter are Mark Coleman, William Knight, Eric Smith and Mike Rodriguez.

“Mr. and Mrs. Wexner have condemned Jeffrey Epstein’s abhorrent behavior in the strongest possible terms and severed all ties with him more than a decade ago. Prior to the recent news coverage of Ms. Farmer, Mr. and Mrs. Wexner had no knowledge of her, never met her, never spoke with her, and never spoke with Mr. Epstein or anyone else about her,” Wexner spokesman Thomas Davies said.

Davies said in December that Leslie Wexner had cut ties with Epstein in 2007 after the first allegations surfaced that he was trafficking in and sexually abusing young women.

Prior to that, Epstein was Leslie Wexner’s money manager. Their relationship was so close Wexner, best known as the founder of the firm that owns Victoria’s Secret, gave Epstein power of attorney and made him a trustee of the Wexner Foundation, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.

“Being taken advantage of by someone who is … so depraved is something I’m embarrassed I’m even close to,” Leslie Wexner said in September about his relationship with Epstein. “In the present, everyone has to feel enormous regret for the advantage that was taken of so many young women.”

OSU spokesman Ben Johnson declined to comment.

Farmer lauded Yetts and the other wrestlers.

"That is so fabulous," she said. "Please tell those brave men that I love them for helping me fight for the truth."

Meanwhile, a committee in the Republican-dominated Ohio Legislature has agreed to resume hearings on a bill that would create a window that would enable the Strauss victims to sue OSU.

House Bill 249 had been stalled since September and the House Civil Justice Committee agreed to give it a hearing under pressure from Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and Gov. Mike DeWine, both Republicans.

Image: Dr. Richard Strauss
Dr. Richard Strauss from a 1978 Ohio State University employment application.Ohio State University / via AP file

Strauss died by suicide in 2005. Independent investigators with the law firm Perkins Coie released a damning report last year which concluded that coaches and administrators at OSU knew Strauss was abusing young men but made no attempt to stop him.

Since the release of the Perkins-Coie report, Ohio State has apologized repeatedly and insisted it was “actively participating in good faith in the mediation process directly by the federal court.” The school has also said that it “has led the effort to investigate and expose Richard Strauss’ abuse and the university’s failure at the time to adequately respond to or prevent it.”

Farmer last year filed a complaint in New York City federal court alleging that she was “violently sexually assaulted” by Epstein and his “co-conspirator” Ghislaine Maxwell “while she was working on an art project at Epstein’s guest house on Les Wexner’s Ohio estate.” Maxwell has not been charged with any crimes in connection to her relationship with Epstein.

Farmer’s complaint said she called the local police for help after the alleged attack but they did not respond. A spokesman for the local sheriff's office told The Washington Post they had no record of Farmer calling them because they are automatically expunged if they are more than two years old.

Farmer claimed that Wexner’s security team discouraged her from leaving the property for 12 hours and only relented when her father arrived from Kentucky to rescue her.

In an interview with the Post, Farmer said that during her two-month stay she never met the Wexners, but she had to get permission from Abigail Wexner by calling her at the main house any time she wanted to leave the property.