Misled in Sandusky inquiry, Second Mile donors say

Posted: November 17, 2011

Even as prosecutors closed in around its founder, the charity at the center of the Penn State child-abuse scandal told benefactors there was no truth to rumors that former Pennsylvania State University football coach Jerry Sandusky was under investigation, a group of four donors said Thursday.

The four said they became concerned after reading local newspaper reports in the spring that a grand jury was pursuing allegations that Sandusky had sexually abused children.

When the donors then approached top administrators of the Second Mile, the charity Sandusky founded to help disadvantaged children, they were assured the reports were unfounded, they said, and the charity continued to solicit money from them.

The charity's purported statements to its donors contradict the timeline it laid out last week to explain what it knew and when regarding the Sandusky investigation. Sandusky himself informed the charity in 2008 that he was under investigation. By early 2010, the Second Mile's records reportedly had already been subpoenaed by the grand jury.

"When the news finally came out, it hit us hard," said Tracy Bell, a store coordinator at Family Clothesline, a Penn State souvenir shop just off campus that donated more than $50,000 to the charity last year. "We thought we were a part of the Second Mile family, and they lied to us."

Donor outrage is only the latest setback for the Second Mile, one of central Pennsylvania's largest charities for at-risk youth, as it struggles to survive since Sandusky's arrest.

This week, the organization's longtime chief executive officer, Jack Raykovitz, resigned, as did several board members who said they were concerned about the charity's handling of the case.

Sandusky is accused of molesting at least eight boys he met through the Second Mile between 1994 and 2009. He has denied the charges, but the case has already led to the arrest of two former Penn State administrators and the ouster of the university's president, Graham B. Spanier, and its famed football coach, Joe Paterno.

In a statement issued last week, the Second Mile said it became aware of the allegations against its founder in 2008, when Sandusky informed board members that he had been accused of abuse by a boy in Clinton County. He voluntarily agreed to stop working with children.

"Since then, we have done everything in our power to cooperate with law enforcement officials and will continue to do so," the charity's statement said.

But by early this year, news of a wider investigation was well-known. Rumors had begun to percolate around State College. The Harrisburg Patriot-News had started reporting in March on a grand jury convened to hear evidence in the case. And, according to a Thursday report in the New York Times, the Second Mile had already received subpoenas from the Attorney General's Office for Sandusky's travel and expense records.

Bell said her business was concerned enough by the reports to approach Raykovitz and others at the charity's annual golf fund-raiser in June in State College.

"We specifically asked the Second Mile whether there was a grand jury investigation," she said. "They said it was just gossip and rumors. They asked us to make another pledge."

Peter Varischetti, co-owner of the Brockaway commercial real estate firm Varischetti & Sons, said his concerns were also rebuffed. His company donated $5,000 last year.

Even those who never specifically asked Second Mile officials about an investigation said they felt the charity ought to have been more forthcoming.

Major benefactors such as Bank of America and health insurer Highmark Blue Shield have all announced in recent days that they were pulling their support from the program.

"Because of the very disturbing allegations and pending investigations at Second Mile, we are at this time suspending our philanthropic relationship with the organization," said Jeff McCollum, spokesman for State Farm Insurance. The company has consistently ranked among the charity's largest donors, according to annual reports. Last year, it donated between $20,000 and $50,000.

As a nonprofit, the Second Mile faced no legal obligation to inform its donors of any investigations that might affect its future. But several nonprofit sector analysts agreed Thursday that its leaders had a moral duty to inform donors of what they knew when asked.

"What they should have done was be open and up front about it," said Laura Otten, director of the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University. "It would have made them look like they were in control of the situation, as opposed to now, where they look like they were lying."

Elsewhere Thursday, lawmakers and Penn State trustees continued to grapple with questions of accountability for other institutions tied to the Sandusky case.

State lawmakers continued planning a joint House and Senate commission to consider changing state law because of the scandal.

In Washington, Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.) cited the case as evidence of the need to reexamine federal laws protecting students.

Penn State trustees retained the Pittsburgh law firm Reed Smith and seasoned New York crisis-management agency Ketchum to advise them. Both businesses declined to discuss the nature of their roles with the university.

Pledging openness and transparency last week, the board of trustees announced a special committee to conduct an in-depth investigation into the university's response, but since then it has been largely unresponsive.

Questions remain about the panel's makeup and what form that inquiry will take.

"The committee is still being formed, as individuals are being asked to serve and we are waiting on their responses," university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. "Right now, we need to wait until the committee is in place and fully charged before we can release any more information."

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @inqmontco on Twitter. Read his blog, "MontCo Memo," at www.philly.com/montcomemo

Inquirer staff writers Jeff Gammage and Al Lubrano contributed to this article.

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