Discuss as:

Feds launch criminal probe in Sandusky case, subpoena Penn State records

A grand jury subpoena demands that Penn State turn over records about Jerry Sandusky dating back to 1998. NBC's National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff reports.

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed documents and computer hard drives from Penn State University as part of a new criminal probe into what school officials and board members may have known about alleged child sex abuse by former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. 

Investigators are also trying to determine if Penn State board members may have made previously undisclosed payments to "third parties" relating to Sandusky, according to the subpoena, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News.

As part of their investigation, federal prosecutors also recently sought files about Sandusky from the family of the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. Wick Sollers, a lawyer for the Paterno family, told NBC News that federal prosecutors have asked him for all the late coach’s records on  Sandusky, who served as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator at Penn State for nearly 30 years until his retirement in 1999. Sollers said he is voluntarily turning over the Paterno’s files on Sandusky without a subpoena and fully cooperating with the probe.

The broad scope of the subpoena indicates that federal agents may be investigating a potential cover-up of Sandusky's alleged abuse by top school officials, according to three sources familiar with the case, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. It seeks records -- including internal emails -- dating to 1998 from the computers and files of Sandusky and three former top Penn State officials: former President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz, who was in charge of the campus police.

All three were named in a Pennsylvania state grand jury report in November as having been told about an allegation relating to Sandusky and a young boy in the school's athletic locker room in 2002. Spanier subsequently resigned and Curley and Schultz were were fired by the university. All have denied any wrongdoing. 

The subpoena also seeks records about Penn State board members and The Second Mile, the charity for troubled children that Sandusky founded. The subpoena was signed by two federal prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney Peter Smith in Harrisburg, Pa. on Feb. 2 and demands that all records be turned over by Feb. 29, they said.

NBC News has learned that Sandusky had access to a Penn State Internet access account from shortly after his arrest until it was disabled sometime in the past two weeks. That means records of his account and emails stored on the Penn State University system would have been saved and be subject to a subpoena.

Click here to read the subpoena

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers confirmed the university had received the subpoena, saying, "The university is fully cooperating with this request for information." She declined further comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Harrisburg declined to comment.

Pennsylvania state prosecutors have charged Sandusky with more than 50 counts of child sex abuse involving 10 young boys over a 15-year period. He has denied the charges and a trial has been set for May. NBC News reported in December that federal prosecutors were considering whether to open a separate probe because of allegations that Sandusky may have transported a boy who he allegedly abused across state lines -- to out of state bowl games in Tampa and San Antonio. Federal officials were also trying to determine if Sandusky used computers to communicate with or solicit his alleged victims -- another potential violation of federal law, a federal law enforcement official told NBC News. 

The confirmation of the subpoena by Penn State is the first concrete sign that the federal criminal investigation has already begun. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Attorney General's Office declined to comment, saying only that the office is "in close communications" with federal law enforcement officials, including the U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg.

NBC News producer Tom Winter contributed to this report.