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Survivors ask Texas AG to take action against owners of Karolyi Ranch, site of alleged sexual abuse of female gymnasts

The Texas Rangers have been investigating Karolyi Ranch since January, but lawyers for survivors say action from the state attorney general is needed as well.

Autumn Blaney, a teenager who says she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, a former doctor for the Olympic women's gymnastics team, speaks at a press conference in Austin on May 10, 2018.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office should take the steps of the Michigan attorney general in aggressively pursuing charges against the men and women who enabled Larry Nassar — the former doctor for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team — to sexually assault more than 200 young female athletes, a group of survivors and their lawyers said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Standing in the sunshine and wind outside the office of Texas’ top attorney, five women who say they suffered abuse at the hands of Nassar asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to take action against the couple they say allowed that abuse to continue — action Paxton’s office has said it does not have the power to take.

The women and their lawyers claim that Martha and Bela Karolyi, owners of the famed Texas Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, knew about the abuse at the longtime official training site of the team but took no steps to prevent it from continuing. They point to a May 2017 deposition in which Martha Karolyi answers “yes” after being asked whether she was aware of molestation accusations against Nassar.

The Karolyis have said through their lawyer that “Martha misunderstood the question and misspoke.”

Nassar has been charged with multiple counts of abuse and was sentenced earlier this year to decades in prison. Meanwhile, in Texas, the women and their lawyers said, no action has been taken against those implicated in his crimes.

“I can’t understand why this is not taken seriously in Texas right now,” said Jamie Dantzscher, one of the survivors.

The Texas Rangers, in consort with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, have been investigating Karolyi Ranch since January at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott. That investigation is ongoing, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Thursday.

Lawyers for the women called that investigation insufficient, saying there have been no search warrants or charges yet issued. And there’s no indication that that probe is “seriously looking into the Karolyis,” said California attorney John Manly, who’s representing more than 100 survivors in the Nassar case.

Michelle Tuegel, a Waco attorney representing many of the Texas survivors, said a case of this scope requires action from the state’s top attorney — and, perhaps more importantly, the resources his office brings with it.

But in a statement shortly after the press conference, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the investigation is “outside of our jurisdiction” but that the office would “gladly and immediately assist with this investigation and prosecution” if asked by local law enforcement.

“We are confident that the Texas Rangers, in coordination with the Walker County District Attorney and Walker County Sheriff’s Office, will complete a thorough investigation that will achieve justice for the victims of these alleged crimes,” spokesman Marc Rylander said.

Manly countered that “the Texas Attorney General can take over any case they choose.” And Tuegel said immediate action from Paxton is necessary because some of the relevant statutes of limitations are set to expire in the coming weeks.

“They’ve done it in Michigan. I think Texas needs to step up,” Tuegel said.

The Karolyis, who have publicly denied having any knowledge of the allegations, including in an emotional interview last month with NBC, have also launched their own lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, asking for damages for the canceled sale of their facilities to USA Gymnastics. In that lawsuit, the couple seeks “stigma damages” for the ranch’s market devaluation.

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