Ex-federal prosecutor tapped for a review of Sandusky case

H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr.'s findings could affect careers.
H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr.'s findings could affect careers.

Colleagues say H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr. is well-suited to the politically delicate task.

Posted: February 11, 2013

HARRISBURG - Though his job will be to work as quietly as possible behind the scenes, former Philadelphia federal prosecutor H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr. could become the most closely watched person in Harrisburg this year.

And those who know him say Moulton is well-suited to the tricky task at hand.

Last week, the state's new attorney general, Democrat Kathleen Kane, tapped him to reexamine, step by step, how investigators for a previous attorney general - Republican Tom Corbett - went after child molester Jerry Sandusky.

In his new role, Moulton will essentially be investigating the investigators behind one of the biggest criminal cases in recent Pennsylvania memory. The review is fraught with political implications: Poll after poll finds Pennsylvanians unsatisfied with how Gov. Corbett handled the case when he was attorney general.

Not that the case came to naught: As Corbett likes to point out, the Sandusky prosecution was successful, and the former Penn State assistant football coach will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.

But charges weren't brought until nearly three years after the probe began, and therein lies Moulton's assignment: to find out whether the office took too long to bring the charges, and whether political considerations played into Corbett's decisions.

For his part, Corbett has seemingly spent as much time over the last year answering questions about Sandusky as he has state policy, and the answer has always been unequivocal: We did everything by the book. Kane has said Corbett could have moved more quickly to get Sandusky off the streets.

Moulton will need to sort through everything from fact to conspiracy theories, from politics to palace intrigue. And though few are willing to say it out loud, his findings could make or break careers.

"He is the perfect person for the job," said former federal prosecutor John J. Pease, who led the corruption probe that sent former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo to prison. "He has the experience as a prosecutor to work on complex cases, to understand the facts and get to the bottom of what happened," Pease said of Moulton, who was his boss during the Fumo investigation. "And he will do it without having any preconceived ideas at all regarding the outcome."

Moulton, 54, declined to be interviewed for this article. Those who know him and have worked with him for years agree that he possesses both the temperament and the skill for the job.

They describe him as the antithesis of television-inspired prosecutorial flash. Yet Moulton's professional career reveals a peripatetic restlessness of sorts, and a willingness to break out of the comfort of his day job to take on a new challenge.

After he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist and worked in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, the early 1990s found Moulton representing news media in defamation and other First Amendment-related litigation - including The Inquirer - for private law firms. Then in 1993, he became project director for the U.S. Treasury Department's investigation into the failed raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. He testified to Congress on his findings - which, Kane noted last week, led to shake-ups in the Treasury Department.

Yet Moulton kept circling back to two things: teaching and prosecuting. He has taught at Widener University's law school since 1993, taking a leave in 2001 to return to the U.S. Attorney's Office as first assistant to then-U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan, who now is a congressman.

In an interview last week, Meehan (R., Pa.) said he did not know Moulton when he first hired him - after taking office in the days soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. But Moulton came highly recommended by a fellow Widener law professor.

" 'I have just the guy for you,' " Meehan recalled being told. "It was a leap of faith, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made in my life."

Over the next five years, Meehan said, Moulton was his point man on a range of sensitive issues, from the new war on terror to health-care fraud.

And corruption: Moulton was in the top command at the office when it launched its investigation of Fumo, one of the city's most powerful politicians.

"He sort of lives by the prosecutor's motto: You go where the facts lead you," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid, who was also a top deputy under Meehan and briefly served as the office's interim U.S. attorney.

What sets Moulton apart, she said, is that he is both a prosecutor and an academic, and she expects he will go beyond reviewing the Sandusky probe to also recommend ways to improve investigative protocols in the office Kane now runs.

"Some people live and breathe to get into the courtroom to do trials," Magid said, noting that Moulton was an accomplished trial lawyer. "But he is always someone who also looks at the policy side."

Philadelphia defense lawyer Robert Welsh said that when Kane was searching for someone to take the Sandusky review, there was wide speculation in the legal community that she would select a big law firm.

"And when I saw she selected Geoff, I went, 'My God, of course.' You can't hire a big firm, they will cost twice as much. But, more importantly, he is independent," said Welsh.

He believes Moulton will pursue the Sandusky review uncolored by any bias, and will detail his findings regardless of who is helped or hurt by them.

"I think he has absolute integrity," said Welsh, himself a former federal prosecutor. "And I think he will speak the truth and fear no man."

Contact Angela Couloumbis

at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis @phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.

Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.

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