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Freeh report: Paterno, Penn State hid the facts

Penn State coach Joe Paterno stands with his

Penn State coach Joe Paterno stands with his players before taking the field for an NCAA college football game against Ohio State in State College, Pa. (Nov. 7, 2009) Credit: AP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking university officials "repeatedly concealed critical facts" about Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children to avoid "bad publicity," according to an internal investigation released Thursday.

The 267-page report is the result of an eight-month university-funded investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh into the school's handling of Sandusky allegations that span more than a decade.

"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," Freeh said. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

Paterno's "61 years of excellent service to the university is now marred," said Karen Peetz, the chairperson of Penn State's board of trustees. She added that the board was "accepting full responsibility" and should have been "risk managing in a much more proactive way" once they first heard of the grand jury investigation two years ago.

Kenneth Frazier, a member of the board of trustees, called Freeh's report "very thorough" and regretted that the board didn't probe for more answers

Freeh was hired by the university's board of trustees late last year in the wake of Sandusky's indictment by a grand jury on sexual abuse charges spanning nearly a decade. The former assistant football coach was convicted last month on 45 of 48 counts and faces up to 442 years in jail. He is awaiting sentencing.

Freeh's report says Paterno, along with former Penn State president Graham Spanier, senior vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley -- "four of the most powerful people" at the university -- concealed Sandusky's abuse from the board of trustees and the authorities.

Sandusky retired as an assistant football coach in 1999 "not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy," according to the report.

Paterno was fired last November, toward the end of his 46th season as head coach, following a public backlash in the wake of the Sandusky indictment. He died two months later after a bout with lung cancer. Freeh said the longtime coach was not interviewed as part of the investigation.

Paterno's family released a statement after the report was released, saying Paterno "is still the only leader to step forward and say with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more."

The family took issue with the report's suggestion that the coach conspired to conceal information about Sandusky's behavior to avoid bad publicity, calling that accusation: "simply not realistic."

"If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions," the family's statement said.

The report detailed the university officials' response to allegations in 1998 and 2001 of Sandusky's sexual misconduct in the football showers with young boys in information culled from investigators' firsthand interviews, court testimony and internal university emails.

A woman alerted university police in May 1998 after her son came home with wet hair after showering with Sandusky, and emails from Curley to Spanier and Schultz reported that he "touched base with" Paterno and the coach wanted to be kept in the loop.

Paterno's family has said he was not aware of this accusation.

Although the complaint did not result in charges against Sandusky, Schultz's handwritten notes, acquired by Freeh, showed that he was worried it could become "a pandora's box" and wondered if there were more children with similar accusations.

Schultz also noted that Sandusky's behavior was "at best inappropriate" and "@ worst sexual improprieties." Freeh noted that these four university officials did not speak with Sandusky or the staff about the accusation, monitor his behavior or limit his interaction with children even though he was a university employee at the time.

Freeh said there is no evidence his 1999 retirement was related to the 1998 police investigation.

In 2001, Freeh said officials initially planned to go to the authorities in 2001 after an assistant football coach reported seeing Sandusky molest a boy in the showers, but Curley wrote in an email to Spanier and Schultz that he consulted with Paterno and was now "uncomfortable" with that plan. Curley instead met directly with Sandusky and told him not to bring children on campus anymore, the report said.

At no point did the school officials make any effort to locate the child, Freeh said.

Freeh said his staff of investigators conducted more than 430 interviews of current and former Penn State employees, including many from the football program. Neither Curley nor Schultz granted an interview on the advice of their counsel, Freeh said. Both face perjury charges stemming from their testimony before the grand jury that indicted Sandusky last November.

Sandusky also declined to be interviewed, Freeh said.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office declined to say whether Spanier might be the next to face charges of failure to report a sex crime including a minor, calling it "an active and ongoing grand jury investigation."

The report also criticizes the football program for "opting out" of complying with the Clery Act, a federal law that requires universities to publicly report certain crimes that take place on campus.

The United States Department of Education announced last year it was investigating Penn State's handling of the allegations. A spokesman said Thursday that the investigation remains open and declined to comment on the Freeh Report's findings.

Freeh's report also criticized the lack of institutional oversight, saying the school "empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access" after he had retired.

Freeh called it a "failure of governance," saying there were no practice of the "transparency, compliance, police reporting and child protection" that should exist in a university setting.

"This is best reflected by the janitors' decision not to report Sandusky's horrific 2000 sexual assault of a young boy in the Lasch Building shower," Freeh said. "The janitors were afraid of being fired for reporting a powerful football coach."

The report also shed new light on the circumstances surrounding Sandusky's retirement, saying he had received a lump sum payment of $168,000 - $111,999.19 after taxes, he noted - which he described as unusual. Freeh said Sandusky also received emeritus status even though his status at the university did not warrant it, instead receiving the benefit a result of a promise from Spanier, the school president.

Emeritus status gained Sandusky access throughout the university, something that university officials said in the report would have complicated their efforts to limit his presence on campus after they had been alerted to the grand jury investigating him for sexually abusing minors.

Meanwhile, the NCAA said in a statement that, with the Freeh Report complete, the school must now answer its questions "concerning compliance with institutional control and ethics policies," as outlined in a letter sent to the university president last November.

"Penn State's response to the letter will inform our next steps, including whether or not to take further action," said Bob Williams, the NCAA's vice president of communications, in a statement.

Penn State president Rodney Erickson, speaking at a news conference at a Scranton, Pa. hotel, said he would respond to the NCAA's questions in the coming weeks.

Erickson also cautioned people from reading the report and concluding that this was a cultural problem within the football program that led to the Sandusky crimes or cover-up.

"I think we should be careful not to paint the entire football program with a single brush," he said. "These things happen in schools, they happen in churches, they happen in youth camps all over."

Nike also announced that it will remove Paterno's name from their child-care facility on the company's headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. It had been called the Joe Paterno Child Development Center.

Nike chairman Phil Knight, who had been one of Paterno's fierce defenders in the wake of criticism stemming from the Sandusky case, said in a statement, "It appears Joe made missteps that led to heartbreaking consequences."

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