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Penn State case: Feds consider launching criminal inquiry

As the sports program at Syracuse University is being hit with allegations of abuse by one of its long-time coaches, more victims are coming forward claiming they suffered sexual abuse at the hands of former Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

The Penn State sex abuse scandal may soon become a federal case.

A senior law enforcement source tells NBC News that federal prosecutors and FBI agents in Pennsylvania are now “looking hard” at whether to open up their own investigation because of allegations that former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky crossed state lines to commit child abuse. 

One of the Pennsylvania state charges against Sandusky alleges that he flew one boy – identified as Victim Number Four – to the Outback Bowl in Tampa in 1998 and then again to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio in 1999. Starting when the boy was about 13 years old, Sandusky “repeatedly” abused him, including at the bowl games, a grand jury report charges. When the boy resisted Sandusky’s advances, the grand jury indictment charges, the football coach threatened “to send him home from the Alamo Bowl.”

The feds are also trying to determine whether Sandusky used the Internet to communicate or even recruit his victims—also grounds for the FBI to become involved. And a New York-based charity, the Fresh Air Fund, confirmed this week that it sent five children to live with Sandusky in the 1970s and one in the mid-1990s. 

“It would be inconceivable that we couldn’t find grounds” to make this a federal case, the official said.

The review of the Sandusky matter is being conducted by Peter J. Smith, the U.S. attorney in Harrisburg, Pa. In a public statement this week, he called the Sandusky allegations "extremely disturbing" because they involve the safety of children, and "therefore mandate a thorough review of all the facts and appropriate action by law enforcement at all levels, including federal agencies." Beyond supporting an ongoing inquiry by the Department of Education into the actions of Penn State officials, Smith added: "I can't comment about other specific areas of federal inquiry." 

Smith also offered federal assistance to Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly, who is overseeing the state case. Her spokeswoman told NBC News that there are now regular “communications” between the two offices.

The FBI is also making its resources – including its crime lab and behavior analysis unit – available to investigators, a state police spokesman said.

Read the grand jury indictment of Jerry Sandusky