The Penn State paper trail

Posted: July 16, 2012

Three days after Mike McQueary saw Jerry Sandusky molesting a boy in a shower in 2001, two top administrators at Pennsylvania State University had begun to craft a plan:

They would not notify authorities.

This apparent rush to judgment was made clear in a set of handwritten notes made public last week by the investigative team led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

The Penn State officials, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz, came up with this approach before anyone - other than football coach Joe Paterno - had talked to McQueary about what he had seen.

The decision not to contact authorities was made final two weeks later in a flurry of e-mails among Curley, Schultz, and then-university president Graham B. Spanier. The earlier notes revealed in the Freeh report show just how quickly Penn State officials floated the prospect of avoiding official scrutiny.

Investigators did not find the handwritten notes until May, months after one of the worst scandals in the history of college athletics had enveloped the campus and after prosecutors had charged Curley and Schultz with lying to a grand jury and failing to report child sex abuse.

The notes join a growing stack of documentary evidence, including e-mails and other long-hidden files, that seems sure to transform the prosecution of Schultz and Curley from a war of words with McQueary, an assistant football coach, into a rare perjury case with a documented paper trail.

The documents also threaten to ensnare former university president Spanier, who has become a focus of intensive grand jury scrutiny.

"The hardest thing to disprove in a criminal case are words out of a defendant's own mouth or own typewriter," said Gilbert Scutti, a former federal prosecutor in Philadelphia now working as a defense lawyer.

How had Freeh's investigators unearthed the new documents? In a news conference after he released his highly critical report on the Penn State sex-abuse scandal, he would not address this. But he described the e-mails and other material as "the most important pieces of evidence" in his investigation.

"They're very critical notes," he said. "It was an active case of trying to conceal evidence."

The key handwritten document was dated Feb. 12, 2001, by Schultz, only three days after the locker-room assault, the Freeh report said.

In his memo, Schultz wrote that Penn State would not report the attack provided that Sandusky "confesses" to administrators.

Schultz wrote this down after he had talked over the issue with Curley, but before either had a chance to talk to McQueary - or to Sandusky.

On Feb. 25, 2001, Spanier signed off on that plan, calling it "humane" and "reasonable" in an e-mail also made public in the Freeh report.

"There is no indication that Spanier, Schultz, Paterno, Curley or any other leader at Penn State made any effort to determine the identity of the child in the shower or whether the child had been harmed," the report added.

That child's identity has never been determined.

A wealth of new evidence

The Feb. 12 note and subsequent e-mail exchanges, as well as scores of other documents, were unavailable to state prosecutors when they first brought charges against Curley and Schultz in November.

And for months, their case against those men appeared to rely solely on McQueary's testimony that he had clearly described for them in 2001 that what he saw was "graphic" and "extremely sexual."

Schultz and Curley told grand jurors last year that McQueary had never conveyed that severity to them. Both testified that they were under the impression the episode amounted to nothing worse than horseplay.

McQueary never shared his account with Spanier, and the former president was not charged with his aides last year.

But any doubt about the young graduate assistant's version was dispelled last month when McQueary's testimony about the 2001 shower episode helped convict Sandusky of 45 counts of child sex abuse.

While McQueary did not implicate Spanier in his testimony, the new evidence does shed light on Spanier's role. It shows he joined with his two subordinates in deciding not to alert authorities in 2001.

That decision would prove fateful: Within months, Sandusky was at it again. Of the 10 young accusers whose testimony helped convict him, three described assaults that occurred after the Penn State officials' decision. One attack took place in the same shower facility, in August 2001.

Spanier's lawyer, Peter F. Vaira, declined comment Friday on the significance of the new material.

Freeh's report also suggests Schultz may have kept key documents in the case off campus.

The report says Schultz's administrative assistant removed several documents, including the Feb. 12 memo, from his office after Schultz's arrest and delivered them to Schultz after he left his Penn State post.

The woman later failed to disclose in at least two interviews with Freeh's investigators that those files had been removed, the report said.

Though Freeh declined to comment on how he learned of the documents' existence, university sources said that Schultz's assistant voluntarily alerted authorities in May - six months after she had originally removed them.

Thomas J. Farrell, Schultz's lawyer, did not return calls seeking comment for this article; neither did Caroline Roberto, Curley's lawyer. In June, Farrell issued a statement disputing any notion that his client had played a role in hiding documents.

"To be clear, Mr. Schultz did not possess any secret files," Farrell said. "All his files were left behind after he retired and were available to his secretaries and his successor."

This wasn't the first time an aide to Curley or Schultz has allegedly withheld material from investigators.

In April, Penn State officials fired an aide to Curley, saying the employee, Mark Sherburne, had held on to documents related his boss. Investigators have declined to describe the contents of those papers, citing the ongoing grand jury investigation.

The newly revealed documents also raise new questions about Curley's and Schultz's contentions that they knew little if anything about an allegation of a previous shower-room assault by Sandusky, in 1998.

Indeed, the Feb. 12, 2001, note that Schultz wrote in response to McQueary's allegation says he and Curley had "reviewed 1998 history."

And 1998 e-mail traffic also cited in Freeh's report shows that the two administrators - as well as Spanier and Paterno - were all informed about that investigation at the time.

In one 1998 e-mail sent shortly after campus police launched their investigation, Curley asked Schultz for an update on the case: "Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands."

Freeh also made public Schultz's handwritten 1998 note that contained perhaps the most haunting words in the 267-page report:

"Is this the opening of Pandora's box? Other children."

 

'A link in the chain'

 

Former prosecutors agree that the criminal case against the administrators has grown far stronger with the addition of these contemporaneous e-mails and documents.

"Every prosecutor considers the most important thing to do is to follow the paper trail," said Scutti, the former federal prosecutor.

While the newly uncovered comments don't contain an explicit mention of sexual crimes, Scutti said, they involve discussions of "a serious problem rather than 'horsing around.' "

He added, "It's a link in the chain."

L. George Parry, a former state and federal prosecutor, said the new evidence was damning.

"Those are documents created by the defendants themselves," Parry said, "and they set forth their criminal intent."


Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267- 564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com  or @jeremyrroebuck on Twitter.

Staff writer Susan Snyder contributed to this article.

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