The Sandusky drama goes on and on

Posted: June 26, 2014

It is unclear whether Pennsylvania will ever recover from the sordid and tragic Jerry Sandusky case - or whether officials are capable of keeping politics and personal animus from further infecting the entire mess.

Certainly Attorney General Kathleen Kane's recent actions prove we're still in the thick of it. This is a wound that shows no sign of healing.

The latest chapter of the controversy concerns how long it took state prosecutors to arrest the former Penn State assistant football coach for sexually assaulting children. Sandusky was charged in November 2011, nearly three years after the criminal investigation began and 20 months after a lead prosecutor was prepared to file charges.

Having promised to investigate her office's previous investigation, Kane released a 166-page report this week that is thorough and impartial, especially given that it rebuts claims by the attorney general who ordered it. Former federal prosecutor H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr., who led the review, is to be commended.

Critical mistakes were made, the report finds, especially the delays in searching Sandusky's home and obtaining key records from Penn State. Counter to worries among prosecutors that public exposure might derail their investigation, the report found that news stories and growing awareness turned up additional victims.

But Moulton found "no direct evidence that electoral politics influenced any important decision made in the Sandusky investigation." His findings rebut Democrat Kane's charges during her campaign in 2012, when she questioned the use of a grand jury and charged that her Republican predecessor as attorney general, Tom Corbett, "probably played politics with the Sandusky investigation." The report found no such thing.

As for Kane, thorough and impartial was not her approach at a Monday news conference. "The facts show an inexcusable lack of urgency in charging and stopping a child predator," said the attorney general, who dropped the Agatha Christie-like bombshell that two additional victims were allegedly abused by Sandusky during the investigation. That suggested that if Corbett's office had moved faster, Sandusky might have been prevented from molesting some of his victims.

Inexplicably, those victims are not mentioned in the report. Nor is it clear whether those victims exist. But Kane attempted to upstage her own report, which cost the state $180,000. Her behavior showed an inexcusable urgency to introduce facts that suited her purpose.

Kane's statements enraged former ranking state prosecutor Frank Fina, among her fiercest critics. The war between the offices of attorneys general past and present shows no sign of abating. Fina, who now works for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, held his own news conference to call Kane's allegations "mind-boggling" and accuse her of "outright fabrication." The chief of the Pennsylvania state police added to the discord Tuesday, saying he had no idea what Kane was talking about.

Kane is attorney general in large part because of her constant questioning of Corbett's actions, or implied inaction, in the Sandusky investigation. In Pennsylvania, which doubles as Penn State Nation, Kane's approach was a winning strategy - winning but, as her report proves, false. Though a political neophyte in 2012, Kane won 56 percent of the vote, a better showing within the state than that of her fellow Democrats Barack Obama and Bob Casey. She campaigned as "a prosecutor, not a politician," but now seems in trouble as both.

In response to the report, Corbett opted for his preferred route of silence. The state GOP, though, charged that Kane "used a terrible and horrific tragedy to smear" Corbett and his staff with "baseless accusations" and "desperate mudslinging."

And that's before we get to the pending criminal trials of former Penn State president Graham Spanier and two other former administrators charged with covering up Sandusky's crimes. There are lawsuits and countersuits that involve the NCAA, Spanier, and independent investigator Louis Freeh, who led an $8.1 million review of Penn State's actions.

As of November, the Sandusky scandal had cost the university $171 million, including $51 million in lawyers' fees. But the true cost is incalculable. If you think we've moved past this, think again.

215-854-2586 @kheller

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