Former FBI director Louis Freeh talks about the report on the investigation into Penn State’s involvement in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Freeh was tasked by the Penn State Board of Trustees to lead Penn State's internal investigation of the Sandusky scandal. JOE HERMITT, The Patriot-News
PHILADELPHIA -- Two days after Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually assaulting children, state Attorney General Linda Kelly said Joe Paterno had done the right thing.
An internal report from Penn State University released Thursday laid blame for a culture of silence at the feet of the legendary coach, along with former President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz.
The report says they together created a culture of secrecy that started at the top and penetrated fear into anyone who dared go against the Happy Valley image.
The report was conducted by a team of investigators under former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and had about seven months to take an inward look. They had $500,000 a month coming in checks endorsed by Penn State’s insurance company — receiving $6.5 million to date.
The narrative they reached is one of a coverup, and is much different than the one given by a state grand jury — that Paterno did what he should have, and Curley and Schultz simply didn’t act enough.
Unlike the grand jury, the Freeh team had no ability to compel evidence and witnesses, and no threat of charges for those who didn’t comply.
So how could they have come up with such different results about who was to blame for Jerry Sandusky’s rampant abuse of young boys on campus?
Before the report was made public, it was clear the Freeh investigators had been more successful in burrowing into the traditionally closed university.
Freeh’s team found emails that the AG’s investigators couldn’t get. Freeh called those emails the “most important pieces of evidence in the case.”
Those emails and other correspondence, according to Freeh, helped the attorney general’s office correct the date of the infamous Mike McQueary incident from 2002 to 2001.
But that could be considered a minor technicality compared to the drastic difference in impressions of Paterno.
Freeh’s report concluded two critical things the attorney general has not said:
- That Joe Paterno did know about a 1998 police investigation into Sandusky’s behavior and followed it closely, even though he testified he hadn’t heard of allegations other than in 2001.
- That Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz actively concealed similar allegations three years later in 2001.
Until now, there was no evidence to challenge his word.
The mother of Victim 6, who is the victim in the 1998 case, told The Patriot-News several months ago that when investigators closed that case without charging Sandusky, they told her Paterno was aware of the decision.
Her recollection couldn’t be verified, and so it wasn’t printed.
The Freeh report says there was no evidence of any interference by any university officials in 1998; however, the civil attorney for Victim 6 said Thursday it appeared Sandusky was given preferential treatment by investigators.
None of those questions have been raised by the attorney general. The difference in tone was almost immediately obvious to many.
“It strikes me that Freeh had access to documents and evidence beyond those that the AG had, especially as to ‘98, and especially as to the ‘01 emails, which form the basis of his conclusions,” said Tom Kline, the attorney who represents Victim 5 in the Sandusky criminal case.
What Freeh says those emails show — and what his team concluded after more than 400 interviews — was that Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz were concerned about preserving the reputation, fundraising ability and overall image of Penn State and its revered football program, and so they actively decided to keep Sandusky’s allegations to themselves.
No one else within the university was involved, Freeh said, but he laid blame on the board of trustees for failing to supervise and allowing the insular attitudes of top officials to have an overwhelming effect on the university and on the community.
And there was no better evidence of that, Freeh said, than the decision by janitors in 2000 to not report seeing Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in a campus shower late at night because they feared for their jobs.
“I have always felt and tried to explain to people the strange culture that existed under Paterno,” said Victor Surma, who played for Penn State in 1969 and 1970, and even lived in Sandusky’s basement for a time.
“Paterno fostered a strange and unhealthy society in that town,” he said.
State investigator was a fan
If that was the culture that permeated Penn State, could it have affected the investigation by state attorney general’s office?
Jonelle Eshbach, the senior deputy attorney general who interviewed Paterno, several of Sandusky’s victims and Penn State officials when they appeared before the grand jury, has not been shy about her loyalty to the late coach.
After Paterno’s divisive firing, her Facebook page showed she took a survey about the board’s decision. Her page says she answered that she would have let Paterno finish the 2011 season, then retire as he planned.
Freeh’s team concluded that Paterno’s firing was warranted.
Eshbach didn’t return a message at her office.
Attorney general spokesman Nils Frederiksen declined to comment on it.
He also declined to comment on AG Kelly’s supportive statement of Paterno in November.
As to why an internal Penn State-funded investigation found more than state investigators, Frederiksen said: “Look, we’ve said from the beginning there are individuals who sought to conceal information about this case, and it takes time to dig that information up.”
When she interviewed Paterno, Eshbach specifically told him to explain what he knew about the McQueary incident, “without getting into any graphic detail.”
She also never followed up when Paterno hinted that something about an earlier claim might have been discussed in his presence prior to that.
“You did mention — I think you said something about a rumor. It may have been discussed in my presence, something else about somebody,” Paterno said at the grand jury. “I don’t know. I don’t remember. I could not honestly say I heard a rumor.”
His son, Scott Paterno, said his father could have been referring to the 1998 police report since emails show that he was made aware of it in some way.
Paterno, who died Jan. 22 at age 85 after briefly battling lung cancer, never knew that Penn State officials had uncovered these emails.
The coach was never interviewed by Freeh’s team.
The attorney general’s office has a much higher burden of proof than Freeh did in his internal report.
But Freeh said that one of the most telling pieces of evidence came from Paterno’s own mouth, when he told a Washington Post reporter — eight days before he died — that he thanked McQueary for reporting what he’d seen between Sandusky and a boy in a shower, and that officials would have to figure out what to do next.
How could you not know what to do, Freeh asked.
Sally Jenkins, who conducted that final interview with Paterno, called him “a liar” Thursday in a column for The Post.
She said “he was categorically clear as a bell” when she asked him about having any inkling of knowledge about the 1998 investigation.
“Nobody knew,” he told her. “I never heard a thing.”
Fans rip report
Allegations that Paterno’s actions led Sandusky’s abuse to continue immediately elicited anger from his fan base, who called Freeh’s report agenda-driven and an attempt to blame-the-dead-guy.
Freeh adamantly denied that, and pointed to the email evidence. But he also acknowledged Paterno’s contributions to the university, and said he believes Paterno would have wanted to participate in the internal investigation.
Freeh said he regrets not being able to ask Paterno about the emails, which were recovered only after his death.
Criticism of the findings from Paterno’s son Scott was more tempered than that by idolizing fans.
He didn’t dispute the facts of the report, but said Freeh’s conclusion of a coverup is plain wrong.
“I honestly believe that it a situation where people who thought they were doing the right thing made mistakes,” Scott Paterno said. “I know my father did not know Jerry was a pedophile and did not suspect he was a pedophile. Everything I saw in the Freeh commission report supports that. He reported what he saw in 2001, and the 1998 case was investigated.”
The 1998 case is that of Victim 6, investigated by Penn State police but labeled unfounded when the district attorney decided not to pursue it.
The 2001 case is that of Victim 2, in which then-graduate assistant McQueary says he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a shower, reported it to Paterno, and then to Curley and Schultz.
“We wish he’d have been more aggressive in following up,” Scott Paterno said. “But clearly he thought it had been handled.
“This is a tragedy, not because it’s harming my father or his legacy, but because Jerry Sandusky was somehow able to do this for so long. I understand why the public feels the way it does. In a weird way, it’s easier to accept a Jerry Sandusky — a monster — than the idea that people knew about it.”
Plenty of red flags
This is undeniably a story about missed opportunities.
Freeh called them countless.
The blinders to Sandusky’s actions reach far beyond, but very much include, Penn State.
He was able to adopt a son, who later accused him of sexual abuse that happened while he was in foster care. Red flags were raised then but ignored.
Sandusky had a children’s charity he abused by forging documents to find and prey on boys. There was that police investigation in 1998 — the assistant district attorney who worked on the case declined to be interviewed by Freeh’s team.
Janitors witnessed something at Penn State in 2000.
McQueary witnessed and reported something in 2001.
Coaches in Clinton County, where Sandusky became a volunteer high school coach, saw strange activity.
Mothers of some of the boys saw their son’s behavior change.
Two of the victims allege Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, was nearby when they were being assaulted.
Freeh said many members of the staff and team witnessed Sandusky showering with young boys.
Gary Schultz wrote in his notes in 1998 that this investigation could open “Pandora’s box. “Other children?” he wrote.
Penn State’s poorly structured human-resources office and a lack of compliance with federal Clery Act laws led to holes in the reporting system.
How could Penn State find itself so unlucky in such a perfect storm?
Freeh blamed Penn State’s board of trustees for letting Paterno and Spanier run wild with power.
He blamed a culture of silence.
Perhaps the nature of the crime played a role in conservative central Pennsylvania.
And, of course, the godlike image that Sandusky built to shield himself from getting caught. It might have been an impenetrable shield.
But contrary to the narrative of the last seven months, Freeh said there was at least one man who could have acted.
“Many, many witnesses we spoke to described Paterno as one the most powerful leaders on campus,” Freeh said. “He could have stopped it.”