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Spanier denies he was told about Sandusky sex assault

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File - In this Oct. 8, 2011, file photo Penn State president Graham Spanier, left, and head football coach Joe Paterno chat before an NCAA college football game against Iowa in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene Puskar, File)

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By Adam Smeltz and Debra Erdley

Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 12:52 p.m.

No one told Graham Spanier they suspected Jerry Sandusky of sexually abusing boys during Spanier's 16 years as Penn State University president, he said through his lawyers on Tuesday.

In his first formal remarks since stepping down last fall, Spanier confirmed he sat for an interview in Philadelphia with the Freeh Investigative Group, an independent body reviewing the Sandusky scandal. The team, led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, said it will release findings and recommendations for Penn State on Thursday, posting a report online at www.thefreehreportonpsu.com.

The Freeh findings “will certainly bring a sense of emotional closure” to State College, said Don Hahn, the borough council president. “But obviously, I anticipate that there's going to be a lot of work that needs to be done in studying the report and implementing its recommendations.”

Penn State officials will assemble in Scranton that day for a board of trustees meeting.

“We're all anticipating the release of this report,” said incoming trustee Anthony Lubrano. “And we hope it will bring us closer to the truth.”

Spanier was among the last of more than 400 people the team interviewed. Since his scandal-clouded resignation in November, Spanier has “wanted the Freeh Group to create an accurate report and has been determined to assist in any way he can,” his attorneys said.

They said he requested the interview, despite published reports that he refused to do so until he could access his email messages related to Sandusky.

Trustees hired the Freeh organization in November, less than a month after state prosecutors charged Sandusky, 68, who is jailed in Centre County while awaiting sentencing on 45 crimes of abusing 10 boys, often in university facilities.

Email excerpts recently made public show Spanier apparently discussed Sandusky as early as 2001 with retired university Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley, who face charges of perjury for lying to an investigating grand jury and failure to report the abuse. The emails discussed handling the matter internally, rather than approaching authorities, after Curley consulted with the late football coach Joe Paterno.

Spanier has not been charged. Paterno, 85, died of lung cancer in January. University trustees removed both men, later expressing concern about their leadership.

Paterno's family released a statement saying he was neither a near-saint nor a villain.

“He was tough, aggressive, opinionated and demanding. He was also highly principled, uncompromisingly ethical, dedicated to his job at Penn State and committed to excellence,” the Paternos said. “When the Sandusky case exploded last fall, Joe's first instincts were to tell everything he knew. He assumed the university would want to hear from him, but he was never given the change to present his case.”

Regarding the Freeh report, the Paterno family said: “It is our firm belief that the report would be stronger and more credible if we were simply given a chance to review the findings concerning Joe Paterno in order to present the case he was never allowed to make.”

Spanier attorneys Peter Vaira and Elizabeth Ainslie in Philadelphia said email excerpts trumpeted by CNN present an incomplete story.

“Selected leaks, without the full context, are distorting the public record and creating a false picture,” the lawyers said. “At no time in the more than 16 years of his presidency at Penn State was Dr. Spanier told of an incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct or criminality of any kind, and he reiterated that during his interview with Louis Freeh and his colleagues.”

With the Freeh interview behind him, Spanier's counsel will “revisit the issue” of his civil lawsuit against Penn State, the attorneys said. He filed the lawsuit in Centre County Court, seeking access to email messages he sent between 1998 and 2004.

Those messages would help Spanier assist investigators, according to his court filings. Penn State objected to their release, citing an ongoing state investigation. Spanier's attorneys offered no additional comment.

Penn State declined to comment on Spanier's remarks. University spokesman David La Torre said Spanier remains a tenured faculty member and is scheduled to return in spring from sabbatical.

Legal observers said Spanier might be trying to position himself ahead of the Freeh report.

“I'm surprised that a statement is being made at this point, and I'm intrigued by the categorical nature of the denial, at least in terms of the reports of those (leaked) emails,” said former federal prosecutor Bruce Antkowiak, a law professor at St. Vincent College near Latrobe.

Centre County attorney Jim Bryant said he does not expect state prosecutors to charge Spanier criminally unless he mishandled grand jury testimony.

“I think he just wants to get out in front of this,” said Bryant, who has dealt with Penn State in the past. He suggested Spanier “probably should have addressed this” sooner.

“Instead, he got all lawyered up,” Bryant said, calling Sandusky “a long-recurring problem” at the university. Court testimony shows campus police investigated the assistant coach in 1998.

The Freeh report is expected to delve into that and other campus incidents involving Sandusky. The state Attorney General's Office, U.S. Attorney in Harrisburg, Department of Education and the NCAA continue their investigations at Penn State.

Adam Smeltz and Debra Erdley are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Smeltz can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com. Erdley can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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