Engler accused of trying to secretly settle Nassar suit
East Lansing — Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees and temporary president John Engler faced angry victims of Larry Nassar, their parents and supporters during a tumultuous meeting Friday that exposed how raw emotions remain as the university struggles to cope with the sex abuse scandal’s aftermath.
Addressing trustees, Nassar victim Kaylee Lorincz, 18, accused Engler of secretly trying to settle her civil suit against MSU for $250,000 without her attorney present.
Lorincz said Engler made the offer during a meeting March 28 when she and her mother, Lisa, signed up to speak at a trustees meeting.
According to Lorincz, she saw Engler and asked if she and her mother could speak to him, and the interim president said he could after a few minutes.
While they waited, MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant spoke to the pair for about a half-hour, then brought them into a conference room with Engler and Carol Viventi, the university’s vice president and special counsel, Lorincz said.
“He did not tell us that Ms. Viventi was his lawyer,” Lorincz told the trustees Friday, leading Engler to reply, “Be careful.”
Lorincz said she told Engler during the March 28 meeting what had happened to her with Nassar and how she hoped to help MSU heal and “make real change.”
Engler, she said, replied that MSU and Nassar’s victims couldn’t work together until the civil suits, filed by more than 250 women, were settled. Lorincz added that the interim president made those statements while Viventi, appointed by Engler in February, was in the meeting.
“Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, ‘Right now if I wrote you a check for $250,000 would you take it?’ 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.’ ”
Lorincz said she “felt like I was being bullied.”
Lorincz added that Engler said he had met with Rachael Denhollander, the woman who first spoke publicly against Nassar, and that she gave him a number — a statement Lorincz said she later learned was untrue.
As Lorincz continued addressing the trustees, Engler told her, “Kaylee, your time is up, thank you very much.”
Audience members responded by chanting: “Let her speak, let her speak.”
As Lorincz resumed speaking, Engler interrupted her again: “You’re out of time, I’m sorry.”
Engler was not available for comment after the trustees meeting. In a statement issued later Friday, he confirmed the March 28 meeting with Lorincz and said: “Our memories and interpretations of the March 28 meeting are different than hers. I am sorry if anything said during the meeting was misunderstood.”
The statement continued: “Regardless, since mediation of all claims begins on April 25, there will be an appropriate place for discussions concerning what would be a fair and equitable resolution.”
Guerrant, who was at the March 28 meeting with Lorincz, declined to respond to questions but made a brief statement.
“It’s fair to say that any two people who have a conversation walk away with different interpretations,” Guerrant said. “My interpretation of the discussion was not, ‘I am offering you $250,000.’ It was a discussion about the civil litigation and how it was going on.”
Reached by phone after Friday’s meeting, Denhollander said she is “disgusted and appalled” by Engler and said the university needs new leadership.
“We have been lied to and deceived by our abuser, and now by the president of MSU,” Denhollander said. “Just as disgusting, this was a deliberate attack on my character and motivations, and designed to make it appear that I had betrayed the very women I came forward to protect.”
In a statement, Trustee Brian Mosallam called for action to bring the university and Nassar’s victims together.
“In less than two weeks from today this University will enter mediation,” he said. “Enough is enough. I want to see a just and equitable settlement where we do right by our courageous survivors. These women and their families have been through enough.”
Reached by phone Friday evening, Mosallam said: “If Kaylee Lorincz’s story is correct, I am beyond disturbed. I’m disgusted.”
Before the public comment period, some of the trustees made comments, including Dianne Byrum, who expressed regret that she didn’t ask tougher questions sooner about the university’s handling of the Nassar allegations.
“I realize and I acknowledge that Michigan State University in many ways has failed the community and our students,” Byrum said. “I want to acknowledge those survivors and their families that are here today and say I am truly sorry for what you are experiencing. The public outcry and anger is completely understandable. We have had a culture that is insular and at time tone deaf that at times have made a terrible situation much worse.”
During Friday’s meeting — the final MSU board meeting of the school year — parents of Nassar’s victims and others came out in force, clad in teal and carrying photos of the women who spoke out about the former MSU doctor for nine days in two courtrooms earlier this year.
The protesters were not allowed to bring their signs into the board room, so some parents held up cellphones displaying photos of their children who were abused by Nassar.
When asked about the new no-signs policy, Guerrant said it is consistent with policies in other public hearing rooms, such as those in the state Capitol, and it is aimed at safety and avoiding disruption.
She also said, “President Engler doesn’t want them.”
Before the meeting, several parents of Nassar victims gathered with photos of their daughters, including Tammy Bourque-Stemas, who only recently learned that daughter, Alex, had been assaulted by Nassar when she 11.
“Admit culpability,” said Bourque-Stemas. “Just be honest. We want to know what they knew when they knew it. Let’s get a clean house.”
It was standing-room only inside the chambers. The activist organization By Any Means Necessary left signs hanging up outside the board room. Among them: “Remove Interim President Engler” and “Appoint a woman to be MSU president with experience fighting rape and sexual assault.”
Morgan McCaul, a Nassar victim and the first to address the trustees, outlined why each board member had failed.
“It despicable how your commitments to transparency have strings attached at your convenience,” McCaul said. “Your condolences come with strings, too.”
“To everyone on this board who has yet to make a statement publicly denouncing the culture of sexual assault that you collectively fostered, you are complicit ... your silence is deafening,” McCaul said. “Your time is up, resign!”
John Manly, the attorney representing more than 150 of in civil lawsuits, called Engler’s actions unethical and “disgusting.”
“This is disgusting and he is disgusting,” Manly said. “He is destroying that university and the board is letting him.”