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But that path was nixed in a Feb. 27, 2001, email apparently referencing Paterno.

“After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday - I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps,” Mr. Curley emailed Mr. Spanier and Mr. Schultz. “I would plan to tell [Sandusky] we are aware of the first situation. I would indicate we feel there is a problem and we want to assist the individual to get professional help.”

Mr. Spanier, who approved the Curley suggestion the same day, later told Mr. Freeh’s investigators that the university never had a previous issue with an employee showering with children.

“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted up, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” Mr. Spanier emailed Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz. “The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

Mr. Freeh’s report concludes that “despite their knowledge of the criminal investigation of Sandusky, Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley took no action to limit Sandusky’s access to Penn State’s facilities or took any measures to protect children on their campuses.”

The report makes it clear that Penn State officials did not properly handle their inquiries into allegations that Sandusky had sexually abused boys. Instead, it said, the officials concealed critical information.

At a news conference, Mr. Freeh - a former federal judge and U.S. attorney who headed the FBI from 1993 to 2001 - said 3.5 million emails were reviewed and more than 400 interviews were conducted during his investigation, which included conversations with janitors at the university who were aware of Sandusky’s questionable activities with boys. He said the janitors took no action themselves because they feared retribution from the nationally recognized football program and its prominent coaching staff.

“If that was the culture at the bottom,” Mr. Freeh said at the televised news conference, “imagine what the culture was at the top.”

The report clearly concludes that the need by Penn State officials to protect the university from bad press led several of them to keep the scandal in-house.

“In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university - Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley - repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse,” the report says.

Mr. Freeh described the “most saddening and sobering finding” of the lengthy investigation was the “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.” He said the “most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

Paterno died Jan. 22, two months after he and Mr. Spanier were fired by the university trustees following Sandusky’s arrest. Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz are awaiting trial on a variety of charges, including perjury and failing to inform authorities of the child abuse.

Sandusky was convicted June 22 on 45 of 48 charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, criminal intent to commit indecent assault, unlawful contact with minors, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children. He faces a maximum of 442 years in prison when sentenced in September.

“We have a great deal of respect for Mr. Paterno,” Mr. Freeh said. “He has a terrific legacy, a great legacy. We’re not singling him out, but put him in the same category with four other people. But the facts are the facts. There is a whole bunch of evidence for the reasonable conclusion that he was an integral part of the active decision to conceal.”