William Forsyth, the former Kent County prosecutor appointed to investigate MSU’s handling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, is serving under the direction of Attorney General Bill Schuette, not as an "independent special prosecutor," as Schuette has described him, records show.
A Jan. 27 appointment letter, signed by Schuette, says Forsyth will “act as my representative” and “serve under my direction and at my pleasure.”
The letter, which appears to conflict with public statements by Schuette, was obtained by the Free Press Wednesday under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.
Forsyth’s $175,000 contract, also obtained by the Free Press under FOIA, says “before any report is issued, the report must be submitted to the contract manager” — an assistant attorney general in Schuette’s office — “for review and approval.”
The contract says Forsyth may not make any public statements or news releases without prior approval from the AG’s Office.
The Michigan Democratic Party and others have questioned whether Schuette should be responsible for the MSU investigation while running for governor. State Democratic Chairman Brandon Dillon has called Schuette's investigation a "tangled web of conflict and insatiable appetite for the political spotlight."
Schuette's appointment of Forsyth has generally drawn praise, however, as other attorneys and elected officials have praised Forsyth as experienced, honorable and methodical.
The records clarify the relationship between Forsyth and Schuette, who is a Republican candidate for governor. Neither the appointment letter nor the contract reference an "independent special prosecutor," which is how Schuette has described Forsyth in announcing his appointment and in subsequent media interviews.
Instead, the appointment letter names Forsyth a "special assistant attorney general," and says "all pleas/settlements or other types of resolution are subject to approval by the Department."
The contract does describe Forsyth as an "independent contractor," but that clause relates to liability issues, not to independent prosecutorial action by Forsyth. It says no liability or benefits, such as worker compensation or insurance benefits, will arise from the contract or the employer-employee relationship, and Forsyth is entirely responsible for his acts and those of his employees.
Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Schuette, said the wording of Forsyth's appointment letter is "standard language," but Forsyth is "managing the direction and strategy of the investigation, as outlined by the attorney general in previous statements."
"Attorney General Schuette has made clear in public statements, and in his direction to his staff and Mr. Forsyth, that Mr. Forsyth is the lead on this investigation – strategy, direction and any other activities are directed solely by Mr. Forsyth," Bitely said.
She said a "peer review process prior to the release of any report is standard as well," and intended "to ensure that taxpayers and survivors get the product they expect out of Mr. Forsyth’s investigation." She said it would also assure "accuracy, transparency and clarity of written product following what is one of the most important investigations going on in the State of Michigan at this time."
When Schuette announced Forsyth's appointment at a Jan. 27 news conference, he identified Forsyth as a "special independent prosecutor" and promised an investigation that would be carried out by his department but be "independent, thorough, transparent and prompt."
The appointment letter also clarifies the scope of Forsyth's investigation.
It says Forsyth's investigation "is limited to the investigation of Michigan State University as a result of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar." That would appear to rule out Forsyth's investigation examining the university's handling of other sexual assault complaints, such as those against several MSU football and basketball players.
The contract sets a monthly payment of $12,333 for Forsyth through Dec. 31, plus expenses, with a $175,000 cap to cover all services and expenses.
"The Department may terminate this contract and ... appointment, at any time and without cause," the contract says.
In January, a judge sentenced Nassar, a former MSU doctor who treated gymnasts and others, to 40 to 175 years in prison as part of a plea deal on seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving more than 156 girls and women over more than two decades. MSU has been accused of covering up Nassar's actions. The university denies it.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.
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