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Gymnastics scandal: Rangers probe alleged abuse at Karolyi Ranch

by Tracy Connor /  / Updated 

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The Texas Rangers have been ordered to investigate allegations of abuse at the Karolyi Ranch, the training center near Huntsville founded by famed coaches and used by USA Gymnastics to build powerhouse Olympics teams.

In a letter to the state police agency, Gov. Greg Abbott cited "recent, shocking" allegations made by athletes at a marathon sentencing hearing for former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who has been accused of sexual abuse by more than 150 ex-patients.

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But allegations that Bela and Marta Karolyi turned a blind eye to Nassar's predation actually surfaced more than a year ago when a gymnast named them in a lawsuit filed in California.

The Karolyis, the lawsuit charged, "created a toxic environment where the perpetrator [Nassar] was given opportunity to perpetrate and continue his systematic sexual abuse of minor children."

The suit also claimed the couple hit and scratched the youngsters who lived and trained at the ranch, and let Nassar do what he wanted in exchange for not reporting them to authorities.

Since then, other gymnasts have spoken about how Nassar would come to their cabins at the ranch at night and molest them under the guise of medical treatment.

Image: Victim Mattie Larson speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, in Lansing, Michigan
Mattie Larson speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar.BRENDAN MCDERMID / Reuters

During the sentencing hearing, former national team gymnast Mattie Larson said the isolation of the ranch and the Karolyis' iron-fisted rule gave Nassar the opportunity to molest young girls.

"There's an eerie feeling as soon as you step foot on the Karolyi Ranch," she said in court, detailing how she once injured herself — banging her head against the tub at home — so she did not have to go to a training camp.

"When I attended the next camp, Marta Karolyi approached me and said, ‘You know what, [Olympic gymnast] Kim Zmeskal fell out of the top bunk in the cabins here and didn’t miss practice the next day,'" Larson recalled. "She did not say another word to me for the rest of the camp."

John Manly, an attorney for many of Nassar's accusers, called the Texas Rangers' investigation "long overdue."

"It's very important to find out how hundreds were molested and abused at this house of horrors. It’s equally important to hold those responsible fully accountable," he said in a statement.

The Karolyis denied in 2016 that they knew of any abuse but they have not been heard from in recent months as the scandal has drawn more attention — resulting in shakeups at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, where Nassar had his practice.

Image: Martha and Bela Karolyi sit inside Karolyi Ranch
Martha and Bela Karolyi sit inside Karolyi Ranch on Jan. 26, 2011 in Huntsville, Texas.Bob Levey / Getty Images for Hilton

The website for the ranch contains only this message, up since at least April 2017: "After nearly four decades of spiriting young gymnasts towards greatness in sport, our yearly tradition of the Karolyi's Gymnastics Camp has come to an end. Bela, Martha, and the rest of the camp staff wish to sincerely thank all participants, USA Gymnastics, and everyone who has been a part of our extended family for 35 years of unforgettable memories."

Their attorney did not respond to requests for comment after USA Gymnastics cut ties with the ranch earlier this month, or on Tuesday after Abbott ordered the Rangers to investigate.

The Rangers will be working with the Walker County Sheriff's office, which began investigating earlier. Nassar has already pleaded guilty in Michigan to molesting 10 girls and possession of child pornography, but there have been no charges out of Texas.

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