Penn State faces grilling by former FBI director

Posted: November 22, 2011

IF THERE'S a silver lining to the sordid, expanding cloud that has cast a sickening pall over Happy Valley, it's that Penn State will emerge from this scandal a safer, more transparent university.

That's the plan, anyway.

Yesterday, a committee created by the Penn State Board of Trustees tapped former FBI Director Louis Freeh to lead an independent investigation into the Jerry Sandusky child-sexual-abuse allegations and into the sluggish response - or worse - by university officials.

"Society is rightly outraged about reports of innocent children being preyed upon with impunity - and for so long," said Ken Frazier, chief executive of Merck & Co. and chairman of the committee. "People are asking completely valid questions about why actions were not taken that might have saved any of the victims from harm."

Other than the obvious moral obligation to find out what went wrong and why, Penn State also has a long-term financial incentive to ramp up the damage control: Penn State sells roughly $80 million in merchandise annually, and sales already are down 40 percent this year, according to retailers and industry analysts.

Sandusky, 67, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, was charged this month with abusing eight boys over 15 years. The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported yesterday that one alleged victim was forced to leave Central Mountain High School after students began bullying him over the firing of head football coach Joe Paterno.

Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former university Vice President Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury for allegedly lying to the grand jury about their failure to alert authorities about a report that Sandusky had raped a boy in a locker-room shower in 2002. Paterno and university President Graham Spanier were fired two weeks ago but haven't been charged criminally.

Freeh said that no one would be exempt from what he described as a wide-ranging investigation into the circumstances that led to the alleged abuse, and from a review of Penn State's policies for reporting sex crimes.

The goal, he said, is for the trustees to institute procedures that "reduce the risk of an event ever happening like this, and if it should happen, to make sure the reporting and immediate response to it is appropriate and thorough."

Whether Freeh will receive much cooperation is another matter, especially when he tries to interview lawyered-up university officials.

"Unless you have the authority of litigation - civil or criminal - it's all voluntary. That's the single built-in limitation," said defense attorney Joseph Fioravanti, a former first assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia who has conducted smaller investigations for school districts.

But Henry Hockeimer, the Ballard Spahr attorney hired last year to investigate the Lower Merion School District's webcam scandal, said that some officials could be compelled to cooperate, for fear that stonewalling Freeh would sully their reputation.

"It's sort of a balancing test," Hockeimer said.

- The Associated Press

contributed to this report.

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