Michigan university paid firm to monitor Nassar victims' social media: report

FILE PHOTO: Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, stands in court during his sentencing hearing in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte, Michigan, U.S., February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

(Reuters) - A public relations firm billed Michigan State University for more than $500,000 for January as it tracked social-media activity surrounding the case of convicted physician Larry Nassar that often included the accounts of his sexual assault victims and their families, USA Today reported on Wednesday.

Michigan State University’s Office of Communication and Brand Strategy previously had been doing the work, which also included collecting and evaluating news articles, and some of its employees continued to do so in January, the newspaper said.

Officials at the public relations firm, Weber Shandwick, were not immediately available for comment. Michigan State University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nassar, who formerly was a faculty member and physician at an on-campus clinic at Michigan State University and was also a doctor for USA Gymnastics, received two prison sentences of up to 125 years and up to 175 years after hundreds of young women testified about decades of sexual abuse at his hands. Michigan State University has been criticized for its handling of complaints about Nassar stretching back years.

New York-based Weber Shandwick billed the university a total of $517,343 for more than 1,440 hours of work, according to documents that the newspaper said it obtained through a public records request. The firm’s billing included work done by 18 employees whose rates ranged from $200 to $600 per hour, the newspaper reported.

In addition to tracking the social media activity of Nassar’s victims and family, the firm tracked those of journalists, celebrities and politicians, the newspaper reported.

John Manly, a lawyer who represents more than 120 women who filed civil suits against Nassar and the university, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Leslie Adler