HOUSTON — Bela and Martha Karolyi have filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee in Texas, seeking damages for the canceled sale of their gymnastics facilities to USA Gymnastics as well as declarations that they are not liable for the actions of longtime team doctor Larry Nassar.
Filed last month in Walker County, Texas – where the Karolyi ranch is located – the lawsuit seeks damages owed under the purchase agreement, “stigma damages” for the loss of market value of the ranch as well as punitive damages and attorney fees.
The lawsuit was filed by the Karolyis and their businesses: BMK Training Facilities and BMK Partners, which own parts of the ranch; and Karolyi Training Camps, which leased it back from USA Gymnastics while the federation rented the facility as its national team training center.
Both USA Gymnastics and the USOC declined to comment.
In a separate lawsuit filed Tuesday in Huntsville, former U.S. gymnast Sabrina Vega sued the Karolyis, USA Gymnastics and the USOC for failing to protect young athletes from Nassar.
More than 260 women have accused Nassar, a longtime physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, of abusing them under the guise of medical treatment.
Several women have said they complained to coaches and officials at Michigan State about Nassar, with one women reporting her abuse in 1997. USA Gymnastics learned of his abuse in 2015, but never made public that it had cut ties with him or informed Michigan State.
Only after Rachael Denhollander's story of abuse was published by The Indianapolis Star, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, in August 2016 did the accusations against Nassar become public.
He is serving a 60-year federal sentence for child pornography charges. He was convicted of 10 counts of sexual assault in Michigan and faces a minimum of 40 years in prison after his federal sentence is over.
The ranch has been the home for USA Gymnastics since 2000, when Bela Karolyi began monthly training camps there in his new role as national team coordinator. The camps continued when Martha Karolyi became the national team coordinator in 2001.
Though they first operated under a handshake agreement, the Karolyis and USA Gymnastics signed a contract in 2010 to lease the facility, with the agreement running through 2021. With Martha Karolyi set to retire after the Rio Olympics, USA Gymnastics entered into a contract to purchase the ranch in July 2016 for more than $3 million, taking into consideration the land value, facilities and “the historical significance of the Karolyi Ranch.”
When Bela and Martha Karolyi were personal coaches, they would bring their gymnasts – including Mary Lou Retton, Kim Zmeskal and Kerri Strug – to train at the remote and rustic site in the middle of Sam Houston National Forest. Olympic all-around champions Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles all attended training camps.
But when it was learned that Nassar had abused some women at the ranch, it instead became a symbol for his crimes and the failure of USA Gymnastics to protect some of the country’s best athletes.
The lawsuit contends USA Gymnastics’ termination of the contract “based upon stigma associated with the land is not a valid excuse for termination, because USAG knew there were allegations that its agent, Larry Nassar, had sexually assaulted gymnasts” at the ranch in 2015.
As they did in a NBC News Dateline interview last month, the Karolyis denied having any knowledge that Nassar was abusing gymnasts.
“I feel extremely bad,” said Martha Karolyi, the longtime national team coordinator, on Dateline. “I don’t feel responsible, but I feel extremely hurt that these things happened and it happened everywhere but it happened here, also.”
The lawsuit asserts USA Gymnastics told them of possible misconduct in 2015 but didn’t convey the nature of the misconduct or that it included sexual assault.
The Karolyis contend that former USA Gymnastics board chairman Paul Parilla concealed that knowledge when he helped draw up the contract for the sale of the ranch, inserting an “escape-hatch” into the contract.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Nassar was not subject to the Karolyis' control, that he was subject to USA Gymnastics’ control and that the plaintiffs did not have knowledge of his sexual misconduct until 2016.
Two separate lawsuits filed against the Karolyis in 2016 allege the Karolyis hit or scratched gymnasts, that they withheld food and water and that they made comments about gymnasts’ weight and that the environment they created helped lead to Nassar’s abuse. A third lawsuit, filed Tuesday by 2011 world championship team member Sabrina Vega, accused the Karolyis of not protecting athletes while they were at the ranch.
The lawsuit the Karolyis and their businesses filed against USA Gymnastics and the USOC seeks indemnification “as they were serving another corporation (USAG) at the request of USOC, and they were made party to litigation because of that relationship.”