Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Report: Engler advisers call Nassar survivor's claim of payout 'fake news'

April 18, 2018
Survivor Kaylee Lorincz speaks during the Board of Trustees meeting on April 13, 2018 at Hannah Administration Building. (C.J. Weiss | The State News)
Survivor Kaylee Lorincz speaks during the Board of Trustees meeting on April 13, 2018 at Hannah Administration Building. (C.J. Weiss | The State News) —

Editor's note: This story was updated at 5 p.m.

In emails sent to the MSU Board of Trustees during the weekend, Interim President John Engler's special counsel supposedly called a claim from Larry Nassar survivor Kaylee Lorincz "false news," according to a report from the Detroit Free Press.

At a public Board of Trustees meeting last week, Lorincz alleged Engler had offered her $250,000 during a sit-down meeting without her lawyer present. 

The emails, which were obtained from a source in the administration building, started one day after Lorincz made her claims at the April 13 meeting, according to the report. 

"Kaylee's statements to the Board contained many false and inaccurate statements, which we did not publicly contradict out of an abundance of concern for the survivors who are quick to claim 'revictimization' or 'shaming' of survivors whenever they are falsely accused members of the MSU community," said an email from Carol Viventi, vice president and special counsel to Engler.

The email refers to Lorincz's comments at the board meeting where she described Engler as "bullying her."

Lorincz is one of the more than 200 women and girls suing MSU over Nassar's sexual abuse. She said Engler told her and her mother, Lisa, that cooperation between survivors and the university couldn't occur until settlements in the civil litigation were reached.

"Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, 'Right now, if I wrote you a check for $250,000, would you take it?'" Lorincz said Friday. "When I explained that it’s not about the money for me and that I just want to help, he said, 'Well, give me a number.'

MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant was in the meeting with Engler, and said in a conversation with Lisa Lorincz her interpretation had been Engler wasn't directly offering a settlement, but engaged in a "philosophical discussion" about an acceptable amount. 

Viventi, who was in the meeting the Lorincz' referred to, tried in the email to board members to clarify and set the record straight about the meeting. 

"The President talked to Kaylee's mom on the phone days earlier before they arrived in the reception area demanding a meeting with the President saying they would not leave until they met," the email said. "The meeting began with their pleas (and pleas throughout the meeting) that this meeting be kept 'confidential' and they would 'be in big trouble if it was known that they were meeting with us.'  I was surprised this was the same mom that the President had talked to. But I know now that they wanted to meet in person so they could get him to talk to Kaylee, as Bob Young cautioned, to 'set up' MSU." 

Young, the former Michigan chief justice, was hired by Engler to run MSU's defense in the suits against it.

"As to her assertions about (former dean William) Strampel, recall that the president is the person who wanted Strampel to be fired and lose his tenure ...a process that was initiated long before the attorney general filed criminal charges," the email said. "There is no way he made light of Strampel's actions."

Strampel, who was the Dean of MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine, was also Nassar's boss. He was arrested in late March and faces misdemeanor and felony charges.

"Understand that Bob Young advises that the plaintiff attorneys are willing to make bold and false assertions to advance their goal of increasing the cost of settlement," Viventi's email said. "What members of the board say in public can, however unwittingly, advance the plaintiffs' goals and injure the university.  When, as here, it is possible to verify whether public assertions made by plaintiffs are true, there should never be a statement in the press by board members that gives credibility to sensational headlines or what can best be described as 'false news.'"

John Manly, the attorney representing Lorinczz, criticized the emails in a statement after the Free Press published its story.

"Ms. Viventi is not only dishonest but her attitude toward the victims is emblematic of the moral sickness that plagues MSU," he said in the Free Press article. "The fact she is John Engler’s handpicked adviser is very telling. Any reasonable observer has to conclude Engler and Viventi loathe the survivors. The Board should terminate both of them immediately. But they won’t because most of the Board secretly loathes these women too.”

According to the story, board member Mitch Lyons thanked Viventi for her email explaining Engler's side of things. Lyons also stated, however, he wished Engler had acted differently during the meeting when the allegations we raised.

"I wish the president had refuted her claims immediately instead of letting the Perry Mason moment occur in the board meeting," Lyons wrote. "His silence was deafening."

Concerns were also raised by board members Brian Mosallam and Dianne Byrum.

"I believe these actions were self-inflicted mistakes," Byrum said in an email. "I am not aware of any board direction or the board's advance knowledge of John's contact with the survivors."

According to the Free Press, Viventi responded and stating Engler was trying to follow the suggestions of those who wanted him to meet with survivors.

"John has been criticized extensively for 'not meeting with survivors,'" her email stated. "The day he walked in the door he was met with a letter from (Lt. Gov. Brian) Calley telling him to meet with survivors, drop all defenses, etc. He was criticized because he didn't meet with any of them for the first few weeks. The timing is unfortunate as the meeting took place weeks ago and we were told they needed it to be confidential. Bob is working very hard to tell our side to the mediator."

Mosallam disagreed, with a lengthy response, according to the report:

"This board has a fiduciary obligation to care for this university. Our fiduciary obligation is more than a question of what is legal but includes our judgment of what is in MSU's best interests, morally and ethically. I find this administration's conduct unacceptable.

"At no time did this board authorize this administration to interact directly with our courageous survivors or their families. It is important to remember as officers of this university, this administration, including the Interim President, (spokeswoman) Emily Guerrant and yourself all work for us until we decide otherwise. 

"It is imperative that every action a representative of this university takes is a reflection of the standard of ethics that we demand of our students, faculty, staff and ourselves."

Lorincz even took to Twitter after the original story was published.

Guerrant was reached for comment to seek an official response from the university, but had not responded by the time this story was originally published. 

Guerrant responded with comment from Viventi hours after this story was published:

"I offer my sincerest and most heartfelt apology for the letter I sent to MSU leaders after the Board meeting," Viventi said in an official statement. "I did not think about how my words would make the survivors feel. What the survivors of Larry Nassar have been through should not be experienced by anyone, and I’m sorry my words added to their pain."

Editor's note: Casey Harrison is a former schoolmate of Kaylee Lorincz and a former student of Lisa Lorincz.

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