LANSING - Those demanding accountability from Michigan State University officials for the crimes of disgraced, pedophilic former university physician Larry Nassar can expect a thorough and apolitical investigation from the man Attorney General Bill Schuette hired to lead that inquiry, people who know him say.
In a Saturday news conference — three days after Nassar received a decades-long prison sentence on multiple sexual assault charges, most stemming from assaults on university patients — Schuette named former Kent County prosecutor William Forsyth as a special prosecutor in charge of a top-to-bottom investigation into how MSU officials respond to sexual assault cases.
That puts Forsyth, a 68-year-old Grand Rapids Township resident, in charge of a high-profile case that garnered international media attention as dozens of Nassar's victims publicly blamed the university for ignoring allegations against the once-famed physician for 20 years. It's become an emotionally and politically charged case as lawmakers and other politicians have joined victims in demanding answers, pressuring both MSU's president and athletic director out of their jobs.
But several people who know Forsyth said he's well-suited to sort through the noise and zero in on the truth.
"I couldn't imagine Attorney General Schuette coming up with a better person to try to do that," Clinton County Prosecutor Charles Sherman, who has known Forsyth for 30 years, said Sunday.
"He's going to be very methodical," Sherman added. "He's not going to be one of these people who's going to start out with some kind of agenda. He's just going to go wherever the evidence takes him."
Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd said that Forsyth's three decades as the top law enforcement official in Michigan's second-largest metropolitan area surely prepared him for the MSU investigation.
"This isn't his first high-profile case," Lloyd said. "He's dealt with murders and everything else in Kent County. It's not anything new to him."
Lloyd added that Forsyth is an "honorable man" who has "always been very fair and makes sure that his case is strong when he brings it."
Forsyth's investigation will be broader than Nassar and whether university officials committed any crimes in responding to allegations against the doctor.
Neither Schuette nor Forsyth took questions during Saturday's news conference. A Schuette spokeswoman reached Sunday referred a reporter to a Saturday news release that said the review would look at "ongoing investigation into systemic issues with sexual misconduct" at MSU.
'A lot of questions'
While not questioning Forsyth's ability, not everyone is confident in Schuette's approach. The two lawmakers whose districts cover MSU, state House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, and state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-Meridian Township, each said separately on Sunday that only time will how complete and truly independent Forsyth's inquiry will be.
"I am certainly happy that there's going to be someone looking into this," Hertel said, "and I hope that he has the freedom to have a full scope."
Singh questioned why Schuette, a Republican candidate for governor, didn't begin his investigation earlier. The State Journal first reported early last year that at least some MSU employees were aware of allegations against Nassar as early as 1997 — and said the FBI or U.S. Attorney's Office might be a better vehicle for a truly independent review.
"There's a lot of questions that are out there, and the citizens of the state of Michigan and the victims demand answers," Singh said.
The Legislature, along with the NCAA, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education, also are investigating MSU's handling of sex assault cases.Schuette said Saturday his investigation into MSU began in 2017, but he wouldn't offer specifics. There have been calls for Schuette to begin an investigation for many months.
Schuette has said he wanted to focus on prosecuting Nassar before launching the MSU investigation. The MSU Police Department and FBI questioned eight university employees about their knowledge of Nassar's crimes, the State Journal reported in December. That information was turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office, but U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge has refused to say whether a fuller federal investigation of the university is in the works.
Other lawmakers have questioned the ability of Schuette to keep politics out of the investigation. Forsyth, also a Republican, has given $350 to Schuette's attorney general campaigns, state records show, more than he's given to any other individual candidate.
Watch Attorney General Bill Schuette announce the appointment of William Forsyth. Story continues below video.
Special prosecutor, Michigan State Police will lead an investigation into Michigan State University's handling of sexual assault allegations against Larry Nassar. Wochit
But Forsyth has always been apolitical in his work, Sherman, the Clinton County prosecutor said. He pointed, for example, to Forsyth's years holding leadership positions at the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.
"He's one of those guys everybody respects," Sherman said.
Indeed, Democratic attorney general candidate Pat Miles, who worked as a U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids and knew Forsyth from that work, said in an email to the State Journal on Sunday that Forsyth is "a serious prosecutor" and "a solid choice for the job."
But Miles, too, said "the real question is why did it take so many months and so much political pressure for Bill Schuette to agree to do a full criminal investigation?"
'Reputation for finding justice'
Among his peers, Forsyth's reputation is unquestioned and far-reaching.
State House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt Township, was once an assistant prosecutor in Genesee County and, "even on the other side of the state, we knew about his reputation for finding justice.
"The victims have been stonewalled by MSU and had evidence of their crimes buried for years," Leonard, who is running for attorney general, said in an email to the State Journal on Sunday. "They need a team that will get to the bottom of it and bring all of this to light. William Forsyth will do that, and the House will fully support and coordinate with his efforts as needed."
Forsyth began his career more than 40 years ago as an assistant prosecutor in Lapeer County, according to an August 2016 profile in Legal News. The Standish native came to Kent County at age 26 and was elected prosecutor in 1986 when his boss, David Sawyer, won a seat on the Michigan Court of Appeals.
He retired at the end of 2016, ending a tenure so formidable he ran unopposed in at least his last three elections, according to county records.
In the years between, Forsyth was involved in pioneering cases that helped establish precedent for the use of DNA evidence, Legal News reported, and once squared off in court with a mafia defense attorney. MLive reported Sunday that Forsyth "developed one of the state's leading victim/witness units and he is known as a staunch advocate for crime victims."
The Legal News profile said he is an emotional man, and also athletic. He told his interviewer for that profile he thought about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in retirement. MLive said Sunday he's a longtime runner who competed in the Boston Marathon in 2000.
Forsyth earned degrees from Albion College and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. His father, who ran a hardware store, attended MSU but dropped out to join the Army, Legal News reported in 2016.
He'll be joined in the MSU investigation by Assistant Attorney General Christina Grossi, Chief Deputy Attorney General Laura Moody, Chief Legal Counsel Eric Restuccia, Criminal Division Chief Rick Cunningham and Chief Investigator David Dwyre, along with several other assistant attorneys general from multiple divisions. The Michigan State Police will also aid the investigation.
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