Joe Paterno was intimately involved in FBI investigations into a series of threatening letters sent to the late Penn State football coach and his staff in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to his FBI file obtained by The Washington Times.
The file’s 868 pages don’t mention Jerry Sandusky or the former longtime assistant coach’s child sexual abuse scandal that led to him being found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse earlier this year.
Forty-four pages of Paterno’s file weren’t released. The FBI, which didn’t indicate what period or topic is covered by the unreleased pages, cited exemptions concerning unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and revealing a confidential source.
The voluminous file portrays Paterno as careful, level-headed and compassionate in the investigations that apparently started in 1976 when Paterno furnished a copy of a letter with a ‘veiled threat” signed ‘A Bitter Father” to the FBI. An FBI memo said the letter was only handled by Paterno and the recipient, whose name is redacted.
More anonymous letters came in late 1977, including four to a female member of Paterno’s staff. One letter, postmarked in Pittsburgh, said the female staffer’s life was ‘in Joe Paterno’s hands.” The letters expanded to cover Paterno and members of his coaching staff.
Another letter to an assistant coach said: ‘I could do away with Paterno with no trouble. But I want to make him suffer. I want it to be on his conscious (sic) that he was responsible for a tragic accident to you.”
‘The above letters are very upsetting to Coach Paterno,” an FBI memo from Dec. 16, 1977 said.
Paterno declined local police protection, according to the file, and, at one point, urged authorities to let him sit down with the person behind the letters if he was apprehended and help him.
The letters signed ‘A Bitter Father” reference dissatisfaction over the treatment of a former Penn State player who left the university after two years. The FBI suspected gambling connections in the letters, according to the files, but interviewed one suspect who blamed his wife’s death and son’s alcoholism on Paterno.
Paterno died from complications of lung cancer on Jan. 22, 2012 after coaching Penn State’s football team from 1966 to 2011.
The investigation by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh into Penn State’s response to Sandusky’s child sexual abuse released earlier this year said evidence indicates it is “reasonable to conclude” that Paterno and other top Penn State officials “repeatedly concealed critical facts” relating to abuse allegations against Sandusky. The report criticized those officials for exhibiting a “striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being.”
• Nathan Fenno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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