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Report finds Penn State president, Paterno concealed facts about Sandusky sex abuse

Penn State released the findings of an internal investigation by former FBI Director Louie Freeh, which revealed how much top University officials knew about Jerry Sandusky's behavior and the failure of them to do anything about it. NBC's Michael Isikoff reports.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and other university leaders "repeatedly concealed critical facts" relating to assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse from authorities, according to Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who conducted an investigation for the university in the Sandusky scandal.

Freeh also found that "although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed" by university officials, including Paterno and the university president, for Sandusky’s victims. The report says that five boys were assaulted by Sandusky on university property after officials knew about a 1998 criminal investigation.

Update: Members of the Penn State board of trustees spoke at an afternoon news conference.

"Our hearts remain heavy, and we are deeply ashamed," said trustee Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman, CEO and president of Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company. "An event like this can never happen again in the Penn State University community. Judge Freeh's report is both sad and sobering."

The president of the university, Rodney A. Erickson, said, "It has become clear to me that I need to reconsider our community's leadership culture." He said the university is partnering with the Pennsylvania Coalition against Rape, and creating a center for the protection of children. "This is a problem that plagues our nation," Erickson said, "and we have a special duty" to prevent and treat child sexual abuse.

A statue of Paterno remains outside Penn State's 106,000-seat Beaver Stadium. Members of the board of trustees were asked whether it should remain.

"The whole topic of Joe Paterno being honored or not being honored is a very sensitive topic," said Karen B. Peetz, a banker and chairman of the board. "We believe this is something that will continue to be discussed."

Trustee Frazier added, "You have to measure every human by the good they've done and the bad they've done. I'm not trying to make light of what we've found in the report, but I will say that if you want to measure the man's life," you have to measure the good and bad. "I think we have to take some reflection and some distance before we make decisions about what we think about Joe Paterno's entire life." 

The Freeh report says the main cause of the university's failure was a desire to avoid bad publicity. Also contributing:

  • A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims.
  • Lack of oversight by the board of trustees.
  • "A president who discouraged discussion and dissent."
  • Ignorance of child abuse issues and laws.
  • A football program that had opted out of university programs and training on reporting requirements.
  • "A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community."

The full investigative report is available in this PDF file.

Freeh's findings may affect the reputation of legendary coach Paterno, who died soon after the Sandusky allegations became public, as well as the university's standing with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which so far has not announced any punishments of Penn State. The NCAA said Thursday it is studying the report.

Paterno had testified to a grand jury in 2011 that he knew nothing of the 1998 criminal investigation, but Freeh, based on multiple university emails, said Paterno was among the officials who knew, and who allowed Sandusky to keep his university access until 2011.

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Summary of the report
Freeh was hired by the university in November to review the school's dealings with Sandusky and its response to a 2001 report that he sexually abused a boy in a Penn State shower room, an incident witnessed by football assistant Michael McQueary. (McQueary's term was allowed to expire this year, and he is no longer employed by the university.)

Freeh's team of investigators found:

"The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims. As the Grand Jury similarly noted in its presentment, there was no "attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re-occurrence on University property.

"Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University -- President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno -- failed to protect against a child predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001. Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child's identity, of what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001.

"These individuals, unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties, empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to the University's facilities and affiliation with the University's prominent football program. Indeed, that continued access provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims. Some coaches, administrators and football program staff members ignored the red flags of Sandusky's behaviors and no one warned the  public about him."

Jay Paterno, the son of legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, says that his family is awaiting the release of former FBI director Louis Freeh's "thorough report" into the sex scandal and possible cover-up at the university.

Mark Parker, the CEO of Nike, the athletic equipment company, said Thursday it would remove Paterno's name from a child care center. Parker had given a eulogy at Paterno's funeral, defending the coach's response to the allegations. "I have been deeply saddened by the news coming out of this investigation at Penn State," Parker said. "It is a terrible tragedy that children were unprotected from such abhorrent crimes. With the findings released today, I have decided to change the name of our child care center at our World Headquarters. My thoughts are with the victims and the Penn State community."

Paterno family responds
The Paterno family released a statement saying there wasn't much new in the Freeh report: "From what we have been able to assess at this time, it appears that after reviewing 3 million documents and conducting more than 400 interviews, the underlying facts as summarized in the report are almost entirely consistent with what we understood them to be. The 1998 incident was reported to law enforcement and investigated. Joe Paterno reported what he was told about the 2001 incident to Penn State authorities and he believed it would be fully investigated. The investigation also confirmed that Sandusky's retirement in 1999 was unrelated to these events."

"One great risk in this situation," the Paterno family statement continued, "is a replaying of events from the last 15 years or so in a way that makes it look obvious what everyone must have know and should have done.  The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept. The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn't fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events. Sandusky was a great deceiver. He fooled everyone - law enforcement, his family, coaches, players, neighbors, University officials, and everyone at Second Mile," his charity for children.

"Joe Paterno wasn't perfect. He made mistakes and he regretted them. He is still the only leader to step forward and say that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more.  To think, however, that he would have protected Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity is simply not realistic. If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions.

"We appreciate the effort that was put into this investigation. The issue we have with some of the conclusions is that they represent a judgment on  motives and intentions and we think this is impossible. We have said from the beginning that Joe Paterno did not know Jerry Sandusky was a child predator. Moreover, Joe Paterno never interfered with any investigation. He immediately and accurately reported the incident he was told about in 2001.

"It can be argued that Joe Paterno should have gone further. He should have pushed his superiors to see that they were doing their jobs.  We accept this criticism. At the same time, Joe Paterno and everyone else knew that Sandusky had been repeatedly investigated by authorities who approved his multiple adoptions and foster children. Joe Paterno mistakenly believed that investigators, law enforcement officials, University leaders and others would properly and fully investigate any issue and proceed as the facts dictated. This didn't happen and everyone shares the responsibility."

On NBC's TODAY show on Thursday morning, the coach's son, Jay Paterno, told host Matt Lauer that all the family has wanted is for an investigation to find the truth. "We have never ever at any time been afraid to see what people have had to say," and he called the Freeh report "one opinion, one piece of the puzzle." "We've never been afraid of the truth, so let's have the truth come out and let's go from there."

Former college president responds
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier has come under particular scrutiny in recent weeks amid news reports suggesting he was made aware of suspicious activity involving Sandusky in 2001 and that no report of the incident was made to authorities.

"At no time in the more than 16 years of his presidency at Penn State was Dr. Spanier told of an incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct or criminality of any kind, and he reiterated that during his interview with Louis Freeh and his colleagues,'' Spanier's attorneys, Peter Vaira and Elizabeth Ainslie, said in a written statement.

An "independent" investigation

The investigation is billed by Pennsylvania State University as "independent," though the university is paying the law firm of Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Sandusky, 68, was found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse last month and is currently in prison awaiting sentencing. He faces a maximum sentence of more than 400 years in prison.

Jim Prisching / AP file

How will Penn State's "independent report" affect the reputation of its much-beloved former football coach, Joe Paterno, who died after the scandal broke?


Gary Cameron / Reuters file

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh was hired in November to determine whether Penn State University officials knew about child sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

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The Sandusky scandal led to the ouster of Spanier from the university presidency and Paterno, and charges against Timothy Curley, the athletic director who is on leave from the university, and Gary Schultz, the VP of finance and business who has since retired. The latter two are accused of perjury for their grand jury testimony and failing to properly report suspected child abuse.

Spanier hasn't been charged. He remains a tenured professor of sociology at Penn State. He has sued the university to gain access to internal emails that his attorneys say will exonerate him.

On Wednesday, the Paterno family released a letter written six months earlier by Paterno, saying, "This is not a football scandal."

More from the report:

"In critical written correspondence that we uncovered on March 20th of this year, we see evidence of their proposed plan of action in February 2001 that included reporting allegations about Sandusky to the authorities. After Mr. Curley consulted with Mr. Paterno, however, they changed the plan and decided not to make a report to the authorities. Their failure to protect the February 9, 2001 child victim, or make attempts to identify him, created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him.

"The stated reasons by Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley for not
taking action to identify the victim and for not reporting Sandusky to the police or Child Welfare are:

"(1) Through counsel, Messrs. Curley and Schultz have stated that the “humane” thing to do in 2001 was to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague but troubling allegations.

"(2) Mr. Paterno said that “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

"(3) Mr. Spanier told the Special Investigative Counsel that he was never told by anyone that the February 2001 incident in the shower involved the sexual abuse of a child but only “horsing around.” He further stated that he never asked what “horsing around” by Sandusky entailed.

"Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large. 

"Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims.

"The evidence shows that these four men also knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky relating to suspected sexual misconduct with a young boy in a Penn State football locker room shower. Again, they showed no concern about that victim. The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno was made aware of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, followed it closely, but failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years, and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno’s. At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff, in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the Board of Trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any further action against Mr. Sandusky. None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity."

Land deal for Second Mile charity
According to the report, Schultz met with Second Mile officials on July 24, 2001, or six months after McQueary reported seeing Sandusky abusing a boy in a Penn State locker room, and agreed to sell 40 acres of land to the organization. The land, purchased by the university in 1999, was adjacent to the home where Sandusky started the Second Mile. It would be used to build the Second Mile's $11.5 million dollar "Center For Excellence."

In September 2001, the university's Board of Trustees approved the sale to Sandusky's charity for $168,500. 

The report states that neither Spanier, Curley nor Schultz informed the Board of Trustees of the 1998 or 2001 investigations of Sandusky: 

"Nothing in the board's records or interviews of Trustees indicate any contemporaneous discussions of the 2001 Sandusky incident and investigation, the propriety of a continuing relationship between Penn State and the Second Mile, or the risks created by a public association with Sandusky when the land transaction was discussed," the Freeh report says.

"Schultz, who oversaw the transaction, did not make any disclosure of the Sandusky incident during the Board's review of the land deal. In fact, Schultz approved a press release, issued September 21, 2001, announcing the land sale in which he praised Sandusky for his work with Second Mile."

Eight years later, according to the report, Schultz contacted a bank on behalf of Sandusky and the Second Mile, in an effort to secure financing for the Center for Excellence. In 2009 he told officials from an unnamed bank that "the Second Mile is raising funds to support an expansion of their facilities here in State College…Would you be agreeable to meet with Jerry Sandusky…and me? They are really good people and this is a great cause related to kids."

The bank officials agreed to meet with Sandusky.

More on this land deal is in our earlier story, Ghosts of Sandusky's dreams haunt empty home where his charity was born.

NBC national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, producer Tom Winter, and investigative researchers Lisa Riordan-Seville and Hannah Rappleye contributed to this report.

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