WALKER COUNTY, Texas - The former head of USA Gymnastics pleaded not guilty Monday in Huntsville to allegations he tampered with evidence in an ongoing investigation into the alleged sexual abuse of some of the country’s top gymnasts.
Steve Penny, who resigned from USA Gymnastics last March, was arrested Oct. 19 in Gatlinburg, Tenn. by U.S. marshals on a warrant issued in Walker County.
Penny arrived at the county courthouse for arraignment Monday afternoon, and after a brief hearing, was released after posting a $20,000 bond at the county jail.
Walker County prosecutors contend that Penny, while president of USA Gymnastics, interfered with their investigation of Dr. Larry Nassar, the former doctor for the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team. Nassar is accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women, including many top U.S. gymnasts.
Nassar is currently serving up to 175 years in the Michigan state prison system after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting 10 women. He is also serving a 60-year sentence for possession of child pornography.
In 2017, a Walker County attorney opened a separate investigation into Nassar’s activities at the Karolyi Ranch, south of Huntsville, where gymnasts trained.
Walker County investigators and Texas Rangers went to the ranch in November to search for files connected to Nassar and were allegedly told they needed a search warrant. When they returned three days later, investigators said the files had been removed at Penny’s instruction.
“We believe it was a suitcase and several boxes and we believe the instructions were to remove everything with Larry Nassar’s name on it,” Stephanie Stroud, the Assistant Walker County District Attorney, said after Penny’s arraignment. “We’d love to have those documents. We’d love to see what is in them.”
Penny’s attorney, Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin, said he believes the charge against Penny stems from a misunderstanding.
Hardin said Penny did order the documents to be removed from the ranch and taken to USA Gymnastics headquarters in Indianapolis. But Hardin said Penny ordered the documents moved at the instruction of of the organization’s attorneys.
“He never got them, he’s never seen them. He, with his lawyers, asked that the documents be transferred on the advice of counsel, and that they be transferred to Indianapolis. That was literally the last thing he had to do with those documents,” Hardin said.
The Walker County district attorney said the documents still haven’t been located.
Penny could face up to 10 years in prison if he’s convicted of tampering with evidence. The Walker County investigation into Nassar remains open.
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