Ten days before Joe Paterno died of lung cancer in January, Penn State’s Hall of Fame football coach who preached “success with honor” told a federal grand jury that he knew nothing about inappropriate contact between Jerry Sandusky and boys other than a 2001 incident in a locker room shower.
But emails in former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh’s much-anticipated 267-page report of alleged misconduct at Penn State by the longtime assistant coach - released Thursday - tell a starkly different story.
The sordid tale began May 4, 1998, when an 11-year-old boy’s mother told the University Police Department that Sandusky showered with her son in the Lasch Football Building on Penn State’s campus. Athletic director Tim Curley then emailed Gary Schultz, vice president for business and finance, and university President Graham Spanier the next day regarding the investigation with the subject of “Joe Paterno.”
“I have touched base with the coach,” Mr. Curley wrote. “Keep us posted.”
Eight days later, Mr. Curley wrote to Mr. Schultz: “Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands.” “Coach” likely refers to Paterno, according to Mr. Freeh’s report. A senior Penn State official, the report says, described Mr. Curley as Paterno’s “errand boy.”
As Penn State police investigated the claim - charges were never brought against Sandusky - handwritten notes from a confidential file that Mr. Schultz kept detailed the progress. One entry described the account of a second boy that matched the first: “Locker room. Wrestling. Kissed on head. Hugging from behind in shower.”
“Behavior - at best inappropriate @ worst sexual improprieties,” Mr. Schultz wrote. “At min - Poor judgement … Is this the opening of pandora’s (sic) box? Other children?”
After the police investigation was closed, Mr. Schultz sent a now-haunting email to Mr. Spanier, Mr. Curley and university Police Chief Thomas Harmon.
“He was a little emotional and expressed concern as to how this might have adversely affected the child,” Mr. Schultz wrote of Sandusky on June 9, 1998. “I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us.”
The involvement of Paterno and Penn State’s high-ranking leadership in the 1998 case casts in a much different light the much-publicized 2001 incident - where Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant coach, came upon what he believed was Sandusky raping a boy in the Lasch Football Building’s showers.
Mr. McQueary told Paterno what he had seen on Feb. 10, 2001, but the coach waited a day to say anything, so as not to interfere with anyone’s weekend, the report says. Paterno then relayed Mr. McQueary’s concerns to Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz, who told Mr. Spanier.
Mr. Freeh’s eight-month investigation uncovered handwritten notes from Mr. Schultz marked “confidential” that the university official did not mention in two interviews with investigators.
According to those notes, Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz met Feb. 12, 2001, and ” eviewed 1998 history” and “[a]greed [Curley] will discuss w JVP [Paterno] & advise (sic) we think [Curley] should meet w JS [Sandusky] on Friday.”
More of Mr. Schultz’s notes came from a “2/25/01” meeting, which suggested that Sandusky be told to “avoid bringing children alone into Lasch Bldg.” It also advised that the matter be reported to the “Dept of Welfare” and that the chairman of the Board of Second Mile be told - asking “who’s the chair??”
Second Mile was a nonprofit organization for underprivileged and at-risk children founded by Sandusky.
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.”
• Nathan Fenno can be reached at email@example.com.
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