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Corbett's approval of Second Mile grant debated

| Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011

HARRISBURG -- Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday defended personally approving a $3 million state grant to The Second Mile Foundation, which prosecutors contend provided sexual assault victims for its founder, former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

"He (Corbett) couldn't block that (grant) from going forward because of what he knew as attorney general," said Kevin Harley, Corbett's press secretary. "He couldn't let on to anyone (including the governor's office) what he knew."

The Second Mile, which Sandusky founded in 1977 to serve at-risk youths, "hasn't been charged with anything," Harley said.

But retiree Joe Marasti of Penn Township is not buying Corbett's explanation of why he needed to approve state money for Second Mile. Sandusky faces 40 criminal counts involving child sex abuse of young boys he met through the nonprofit.

Marasti, who had two daughters graduate from Penn State, has nothing against Corbett. He is a self-described Reagan Democrat who voted for the Republican in 2010.

His belief stems from a mistrust of things the university and state government did in the aftermath of the scandal that has rocked the nation and cost college football icon Joe Paterno his job as coach. Penn State President Graham Spanier also quit under pressure.

"I have no idea where this whole thing is going," said Marasti, 69, the former Penn-Trafford School District superintendent. "But as the father of two Penn State alums, I hope the U.S. attorney and FBI take over the investigation."

Sandusky, the former defensive coach who helped develop Penn State's reputation as "Linebacker U," has said he is innocent and is not a pedophile.

Corbett, who as attorney general began the child abuse investigation, approved the $3 million grant because there are not -- and never were -- criminal allegations against the charity, Harley said. The money has not been disbursed.

Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell initially approved the grant for the state's share of a new building for The Second Mile, but it was among a large batch of still uncommitted money Corbett decided to review after taking over as governor in January. Corbett approved it in July, four months before a state grand jury issued criminal allegations against Sandusky and two Penn State officials charged with failing to report the crimes.

In Philadelphia yesterday, Corbett said that denying the grant would have posed the potential to "compromise the investigation." By July, Sandusky had stepped down from Second Mile, Corbett noted.

Grand juries under state law are secret proceedings until an indictment is issued.

"The Second Mile had good purposes," Corbett said. "I'd like to see it go forward. I don't know whether it will be able to continue to go forward, and I hope there is a successor to the organization. Right now we have to pull back" the grant.

Asked if The Second Mile is under investigation by the Attorney General's Office, spokesman Nils Frederiksen said, "We don't identify potential targets of grand jury investigations."

Corbett's budget office, headed by Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, reviewed and approved the Second Mile grant. After the budget office review, the governor reviewed the grant, Harley said.

"Everything goes through the governor," Harley said.

Corbett was not aware of the details of the Sandusky investigation since January when he took over as governor, Harley said. He would get broad updates on the status from state police Commissioner Frank Noonan, the former head of investigations in the Attorney General's Office, but no details, Harley said.

There were no allegations of wrongdoing against personnel of Second Mile or the nonprofit, Harley said.

Corbett flagged $1.1 billion in grants Rendell approved near the end of his term. The governor has approved about $926 million of the grants, spokesman Eric Shirk said.

Corbett's explanation "doesn't make sense to me," said Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills. Because the governor knew about the investigation since he was attorney general, he should have held back the Second Mile grant, DeLuca said.

"I don't know," said Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill County, when asked whether it rang true to him. "People will be sorting that out for weeks or months."

DeLuca said he is concerned that the Penn State board of trustees, separate from the attorney general's investigation, is conducting an investigation of itself. Corbett serves on the university's board.

That was a concern Marasti echoed.

So far, everything suggests "this is a massive cover-up," Marasti said.

House and Senate leaders are talking about a commission to look into the Penn State scandal and offer solutions.

"I've had conversations with the governor, members of his administration, House leaders and Senate Democratic leaders about a bipartisan, bicameral approach to addressing the issues raised by the Penn State child abuse indictments,'' said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County.

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