One of the first victims to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct involving a former Ohio State University physician told investigators and university officials last month that he and others did not intend to cause a “public relations nightmare for OSU,” but sought compensation for victims of the abuse.
An email from former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato, dated June 26, included a link to a video of testimonials from DiSabato and two other former students detailing abuse by former university doctor Richard Strauss. The video also included comments about Strauss from former wrestling coach Russ Hellickson. The email was addressed to two of the independent attorneys assisting Ohio State in its investigation, the Ohio State board of trustees, Ohio State Senator Joe Schiavoni, and others.
In the email, DiSabato wrote that he and other victims of sexual abuse were controlling their role in the situation “to control the damage that is likely to occur to the OSU brand resulting from a public relations nightmare.”
“That is not our intent,” DiSabato wrote. “Our intent is to expeditiously reach a negotiated settlement, without conflict, that compensates the victims for the trauma they have suffered because of this sex abuse, deals with the individual that knew of this situation, but chose to do nothing about it, and corrects the atmosphere that may still exist at OSU, and therefore would allow this to happen again in the future.”
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The email was circulated to media outlets by sports agent Bret Adams, who has been critical of DiSabato and coverage of his allegations in the press. He has sued DiSabato for defamation, slander and invasion of privacy.
Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey confirmed that university officials received the email on June 26 but declined to comment further.
Ohio State announced in April that it was investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by Richard Strauss, who killed himself in 2005.
DiSabato said the testimonial video was created for review by the board of trustees, as well as Governor John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and other state leaders. He also went on to share additional allegations of sexual abuse by Strauss and “chaotically deviant training and shower facilities at Larkins Hall.”
“If I do not hear from you within this time period, I will assume that OSU does not wish to enter discussions with victims directly and will be forced to pursue other avenues toward resolution,” he wrote. “At that point we will all lose the opportunity to control the extent of the public relations damage and the true winners in this situation, as in the case with Michigan State, will be the lawyers.”
Toward the end of his email, DiSabato requested a meeting with appropriate Ohio State representatives within the next two weeks “to commence the settlement discussions in this matter.”
DiSabato told The Dispatch he hired an attorney Wednesday and referred other questions about his email to a spokeswoman.
“I tried as an alumnus, as someone who grew up in Columbus, who loves this brand with all my heart and all my soul; I tried to avoid the day where I’d have to hire an attorney to take on an institution that is unwilling to step up to the plate and do the right thing,” DiSabato said.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni — one of the email’s recipients — confirmed that he received it, and he said he sent all of the correspondence he received from DiSabato to Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine and to Ohio State University.
The Youngstown Democrat said that while he believes DiSabato has an axe to grind with Ohio State because of a disagreement over merchandising rights and an axe to grind with Jordan because Jordan would not make a public statement in defense of the wrestlers, “I don’t think he’s making it up.”
“I think he feels like they’re kind of throwing him away,” he said.
He said DiSabato has never hidden the fact that he wants a settlement for the abuse.
“He’s said that publicly — that he wants Ohio State to make this right,” he said. “And I think what he means by ‘make it right’ is settle the case. I think that this stuff happened. But I definitely feel like he has an axe to grind with Ohio State as well.”
The abuse investigation has received increased attention in recent days after DiSabato and at least six other former wrestlers accused Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan of knowing about the abuse.
House Speaker Paul Ryan defended Jordan on Wednesday amid allegations that the Urbana Republican did not report sexual abuse by Strauss while Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach more than two decades ago.
“Jim Jordan is a friend of mine. We haven’t always agreed with each other over the years, but I’ve always known Jim Jordan to be a man of honesty and a man of integrity,” Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Ryan also indicated a request for an official review of Jordan’s actions — or lack thereof — was not appropriate for the House Ethics Committee because the group doesn’t look at incidents from “a couple of decades ago when they weren’t in Congress.”
On Monday, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer and Norman Eisen, former chief White House ethics lawyer, asked the Office of Congressional Ethics for a preliminary ethics inquiry of Jordan.
The duo responded with a press release saying they weren’t asking for a probe of what Jordan did at Ohio State.
“Our request for an investigation relates to whether Rep. Jordan is now lying about his past knowledge of the sexual abuse that allegedly occurred when he was a wrestling coach,” Wertheimer and Eisen said.
Ryan is the latest GOP lawmaker to defend Jordan against accusations by at least seven former OSU wrestlers that he was aware of inappropriate behavior, including groping during medical exams, but did not report it.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, was the first member of the House GOP leadership to defend Jordan in a statement Monday, while House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the Associated Press that Jordan “absolutely would have acted” had he known of the alleged abuse. And the Freedom Caucus — a conservative organization Jordan helped to found — voted Tuesday night to support Jordan.
Jordan and his defenders have launched an aggressive defense against the accusations, hiring a public relations firm to blast out statements defending Jordan and launching a website, www.standwithjimjordan.com, to defend him.
At least seven former Buckeye wrestlers have contended that Jordan knew about Strauss’ misconduct and did not report it. Other ex-wrestlers and coaches have come forward to echo Ryan that Jordan is a man of integrity and would never have overlooked such a thing.
Dispatch reporter Bill Rabinowitz and Dispatch Public Affairs Editor Darrel Rowland contributed to this story.