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Doctor Accused Of Molesting U.S. Gymnasts To Plead Guilty To Other Charges

A photo provided by the Michigan Attorney General's office shows Dr. Larry Nassar, who treated female gymnasts and is accused by many of molesting them. He has agreed to plead guilty to child pornography charges on Tuesday.

A plea deal could mean a doctor at the heart of a sexual abuse scandal involving more than 100 girls and women, including top American gymnasts, won't face federal criminal charges in those cases.

Dr. Larry Nassar, a former team doctor for USA Gymnastics, signed the agreement June 23. He's scheduled to change his plea from not guilty to guilty on Tuesday morning in a Grand Rapids, Mich., federal court.

According to the agreement, Nassar will plead guilty to three counts relating to child pornography. The document states that between 2003 and 2016, Nassar knowingly possessed thousands of images and videos of child pornography.

He could get up to 20 years in prison on each pornography count.

In return for his guilty plea, federal authorities agree not to further prosecute Nassar "for sexual exploitation and attempted sexual exploitation of children." That relates to allegations that Nassar molested two minors in his swimming pool in 2015. And he won't be prosecuted for "interstate/international travel with intent and engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places." This relates to a period between 2006 and 2013, when Nassar is alleged to have abused some elite U.S. gymnasts competing overseas.

"This affects any federal charge involving [alleged] abuse overseas or at the Karolyi ranch," says John Manly, a lawyer for many of the plaintiffs. Famed gymnastics coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi have a ranch in Texas that serves as a training site for top U.S. female gymnasts.

Manly says the plea deal would affect about 10 percent of the estimated 119 women who've alleged sexual abuse by Nassar — but that would include some of the most prominent plaintiffs, including gymnasts who competed in the Olympics and other major sports competitions.

According to Manly, his clients' reactions range from sadness to anger.

"The message the federal government is sending, and the U.S. Attorney's office is sending [with the plea bargain]," Manly says, "is either it didn't happen or it doesn't matter. In my view that's a breach of faith with our athletes."

The U.S. Attorney's office in Grand Rapids did not respond to two requests to talk about the Nassar plea deal. NPR also was unable to reach Nassar's lawyer.

Manly says the plea deal does not affect Michigan state charges of sexual abuse, and a number of cases against Nassar still are moving forward. If Nassar is convicted in those cases, he reportedly could receive a life sentence.

Nassar worked with female gymnasts in Michigan as far back as the late 1970s. In 1986 he became a member of the USA Gymnastics medical staff, a role in which he attended several Olympic games. In 1993 he earned an osteopathic medical degree from Michigan State University, where he worked from 1997 until last September, when the school fired Nassar amid the emerging allegations of longtime sexual abuse.

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