Penn State Investigators Focus on What Top Administrators Knew

I spent a few days in Happy Valley this week reporting on Louis Freeh’s investigation. Freeh, the former FBI director, and his team of high-profile lawyers and law-enforcement heavyweights, were hired seven months ago by Penn State’s Board of Trustees to get to the bottom of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

The Freeh Group is due out with a report sometime in the coming weeks that is expected to identify who knew what about Sandusky, the ex-Nittany Lions coach convicted last week on 45 counts of sexually abusing children. More importantly, why didn’t anyone do more to stop him?

I talked to nine people who have been interviewed by Freeh’s team, and they described the investigation as delving deep into e-mail trails and other records. Based on their conversations with Freeh’s staff, here are a couple of the main areas that investigators appear to be focused on:

Top Brass. In addition to Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, who are already facing charges, investigators asked many questions about Graham Spanier, the university’s former president, and Wendell V. Courtney, its former general counsel.

During a four-hour interview with one former top Penn State administrator, investigators questioned whether those two men interfered with the university’s judicial processes to take care of athletes involved in disciplinary cases. (The short answer was yes, perhaps part of a pattern they were trying to establish about the culture of leadership around athletics. No charges have been filed against Mr. Spanier or Mr. Courtney.)

Oversight and controls. Investigators have also explored whether Penn State’s NCAA compliance and general oversight of sports were sufficient. Although the university has often been held up as a national leader in having stringent controls over sports, Freeh’s staff wondered why some of Penn State’s top officials had resisted adopting certain practices that other athletic departments adhere to, including establishing a separate campus athletic board. Penn State’s compliance department also needed beefed up, investigators said.

When I was on campus, the investigators’ offices appeared empty, as Freeh’s team has nearly wrapped up its work. The long-awaited report could come out as soon as mid-July, ahead of the next Board of Trustees meeting. But it’s more likely it will be released in August.

Many people at Penn State are wary of what the report will say, as Freeh’s staff has a tall task in not just collecting evidence–but connecting dots.

“They’re not going to cash a check for several million dollars and say it was the perfect storm,” one person told me. “A bad thing happened and they’re going to have to find stuff, even if it’s out of balance or proportion.”

For more on what I found, read the full story.

(Photo by Patrick Smith, Getty Images)

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