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Michigan State hires firm used by Harvey Weinstein to help investigate sexual assault claims

Michigan State is hiring an outside firm to help investigate claims of sexual assault at the school. (Getty)

Michigan State announced Tuesday that it had hired an outside company named Kroll to help the university investigate claims of sexual assault and harassment.

The school made the announcement in the aftermath of the sentencing of former school and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar on numerous charges of sexual abuse and an “Outside the Lines” report that at least 16 Michigan State football players have been accused of sexual assault since 2007.

OTL said it “found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of such allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartan athletic department.”

School president Lou Anna K. Simon resigned in January. A civil suit alleges that Michigan State officials first knew of allegations against Nassar in 1997. 

Kroll, MSU said, will help the school’s Office of Institutional Equity investigate claims more quickly.

“The OIE has experienced a 35 percent increase in incident reports from academic year 2015-16 to 2016-17 and expects the number to continue to rise,” Michigan State’s statement said. “This trend is consistent with MSU’s efforts to raise awareness and foster a culture where individuals feel empowered and supported in reporting. However, due to the increased volume of reports the current average investigation time is 80 days.”

Interim president John Engler added: “We are taking active steps to make MSU a shining example of Title IX compliance; 80 days is not only far too long for a response to a complaint, it’s totally unacceptable. We owe it to all those who have been assaulted and had the bravery to step forward to have a safer MSU be their legacy.”

The school’s announcement notes that Kroll “is often retained by academic institutions and other organizations to conduct sensitive internal investigations related to allegations of sexual assault or other misconduct.” And according to the New Yorker, it’s retained by people accused of sexual misconduct too.

Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein utilized Kroll to investigate women who accused him of sexual assault. The firm’s work with Weinstein regarding his attempts to keep allegations against him a secret was revealed in a New Yorker story in November. 

Weinstein’s relationship with Kroll, one of the other agencies he contracted with, dates back years. After Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, an Italian model, accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her, in 2015, she reached a settlement with Weinstein that required her to surrender all her personal devices to Kroll, so that they could be wiped of evidence of a conversation in which Weinstein admitted to groping her. A recording of that exchange, captured during a police sting operation, was released by The New Yorker last month.

During the more recent effort to shut down emerging stories, Kroll again played a central role. E-mails show that Dan Karson, the chairman of Kroll Americas’ Investigations and Disputes practice, contacted Weinstein at his personal e-mail address with information about women with allegations. In one October, 2016, e-mail, Karson sent Weinstein eleven photographs of McGowan and Weinstein together at different events in the years after he allegedly assaulted her. Three hours later, Weinstein forwarded Karson’s e-mail to Boies and Weinstein’s criminal-defense attorney, Blair Berk, and told them to “scroll thru the extra ones.” The next morning, Berk replied that one photo, which showed McGowan warmly talking with Weinstein, “is the money shot.”

McGowan said Weinstein raped her in 1997 at the Sundance Film Festival. 

Kroll is an extremely large company that specializes in investigative work. When you go to its website, an article about how it helps schools with Title IX investigations and compliance leads the main module. The chances of a Kroll employee working for Weinstein’s needs and also for Michigan State’s are slim at best.

But for a school that’s clearly made missteps when it comes to handling sexual assault allegations and in its public relations efforts, it’s awkward — to put it mildly — that Michigan State is hiring the same firm heavily mentioned in a bombshell report that helped spur a change in American culture of how sexual assault allegations are treated.

Tuesday afternoon, Michigan State’s faculty senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of a non-binding no-confidence resolution against the school’s Board of Trustees. It’s the same board which had a member who referred to the charges against Nassar as “this Nassar thing” and said the board hadn’t spent much time talking about the disgusting charges against the doctor.

Engler, a former Michigan Governor and installed as the school’s interim president after Simon’s resignation, sent a letter to the Michigan State community on Tuesday. In it, he accused ESPN of sensationalism by showing a graphic that had football coach Mark Dantonio and men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo with Nassar while also saying the school is reviewing “allegations and insinuations” from ESPN’s reporting.

“Finally, I viewed with great concern a recent ESPN report that gathered considerable national attention in no small part because it showed a promotional graphic of our head football and men’s basketball coaches with Larry Nassar,” Engler said in his letter. “This was a sensationalized package of reporting that contained allegations and insinuations that we are now reviewing. The coaches were asked to refrain from comment while the reports were examined. That has been a burden that must be lifted. I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches.”

ESPN said in a statement that it stood by its reporting.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!