Sandusky speaks in bid to save state pension

Jerry Sandusky speaking to officials of the State Employees Retirement System from prison on a television hookup.
Jerry Sandusky speaking to officials of the State Employees Retirement System from prison on a television hookup. (CommonwealthMedia Services.)
Posted: January 09, 2014

HARRISBURG - For hours Tuesday morning, Jerry Sandusky looked into a camera and spoke warmly about his illustrious coaching career, his love of Pennsylvania State University, and his commitment to the Second Mile, the boys' charity that he founded and ran.

He rocked back in his chair at times, smiling or chuckling as he sifted through papers on the table in front of him.

It was almost noon by the time a lawyer finally mentioned the crimes that landed Sandusky in prison for at least 30 years, made him infamous, and haunted his young victims.

On that point, Sandusky, sitting with his hands cuffed, disagreed.

"Alleged victims, I would call them," he said.

The occasion of Sandusky's first public appearance since his 2012 sentencing was a hearing at the offices of the State Employees Retirement System. Dressed in an orange uniform and looking slightly heavier than he had during his last court appearance, Sandusky testified through a video link with the southwestern Pennsylvania prison likely to be his home for life.

The 69-year-old former coach is appealing the state's decision to strip him of his $4,900 monthly pension.

Most of the money would go to his wife, Dottie. She sat attentively near the front of the hearing room - filled with a dozen journalists but few others - and did little besides occasionally confering with the couple's lawyer.

Former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley were subpoenaed to testify but invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and did not appear. Both are awaiting trial down the block in the Dauphin County Courthouse on perjury and other charges, accused of covering up Sandusky's assaults.

Most of the nearly four-hour proceeding fell to Sandusky, speaking to the room from a flat-screen television, and at times ruminating in a way that seemed oblivious to the events of the last three years or the prison walls that now confine him.

"My primary purpose was to help young people, to improve their athletic skills . . . the opportunity to see that happen," he said.

"I love coaching. I enjoy working with people."

Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years for sexually abusing 10 boys he met and groomed through his work with the Second Mile between the mid-1990s and 2008. Penn State has also agreed to pay nearly $60 million to 26 of his victims.

Sandusky's lawyer, Charles Benjamin, maintains that Sandusky was not employed by the school when the crimes took place. Benjamin also contends that not until 2004, or about five years after Sandusky retired from coaching, did the state amend the law to include sex assault crimes such as his among those that could lead to pension revocation.

Attorneys for the pension board have argued that Sandusky's strong ties to Penn State even after he left his coaching position made him a de facto employee.

Sandusky spoke modestly about his gridiron career, agreeing only under questioning from lawyer Steven Bizar that he was one of the most famous members of a celebrated football program.

He said that he began thinking of retirement in 1998, after the disappointing revelation that he would not become Penn State's head football coach.

He opted for an early-retirement incentive that boosted his benefits and netted him a lump-sum payment of $168,000, yet he was immediately hired back on a temporary basis as the defense coordinator for the 1999 season.

Sandusky explored several post-retirement careers, he said, including an idea to bring football to Penn State Altoona.

"It was my dream to become a head football coach," he said. "This looked like an opportunity to become a head football coach and stay close to the Second Mile, to retain that connection." The Second Mile was based in State College.

The program never came to be, and Sandusky ultimately went to work for the Second Mile as a consultant.

His retirement agreement - signed by Sandusky, Curley, and Schultz - called for the three to collaborate on work that included outreach programs and the Second Mile. As part of the pact, Sandusky received free season tickets to Penn State football and basketball games, access to gyms and training rooms, and a campus office.

Bizar, representing the pension board, sought to show that the Second Mile benefited greatly from the access to Penn State. The organization's annual golf tournament was held at Penn State and included appearances by school athletes. Trading cards used as motivational tools for children also featured Penn State players.

Bizar called Sandusky an "ambassador," citing Sandusky's regular appearances in the luxury box during football games to mingle with wealthy guests who might donate to the school or to the Second Mile.

"You were there to enhance the football experience for the guests," Bizar said.

Sandusky said it was not his job to be a fund-raiser for Penn State. "I was never on a mission assigned to me," he said.

Bizar also said Sandusky received 71 payments from Penn State after his retirement, a number that Sandusky disputed, saying he was paid only a few times for travel costs and speaking fees. After 1999, Sandusky said, he received no tax forms from the school.

It was Bizar who finally mentioned two of Sandusky's victims, Clinton County boys whom Sandusky was convicted of assaulting sexually. The abuse took place after 2004, when the state forfeiture law was amended.

Following Tuesday's half-day hearing, Michael Bangs, an independent hearing officer, will make a recommendation to the 11 pension board members.

Their decision could take months. If the board rules against him, Sandusky could appeal to the courts. He is already appealing his criminal conviction to the state Supreme Court.


asteele@phillynews.com

610-313-8113 @AESteele

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