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Penn State University board of trustees candidate calls blocking of Freeh contract 'despicable'

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A candidate for the Penn State University board of trustees is continuing his crusade for records that state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis says he doesn't have about the Louis Freeh investigation of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

“There's a ton of questions remaining about the conduct of Penn State officials and how they led the university over the last year,” said Ryan Bagwell, a former reporter who lives near Madison, Wis. “This is not just a Penn State issue. ... It's despicable conduct for state officials to deny access to public records.”

Tomalis, who sits on Penn State's board, was vice chairman of the Special Investigative Committee that hired Freeh's law firm to investigate the scandal. Bagwell has been battling for five months to obtain copies of Penn State's contract with Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan, the firm that conducted the $6.5 million investigation.

The Department of Education went to court last week to try to block that effort.

“To date, the Department of Education has received five separate Right-to-Know requests from Mr. Bagwell in search of contracts and other agreements related to the law firm of Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan,” said Timothy Eller, spokesman for the Education Department. “The department has responded to these requests and Secretary Tomalis has signed four affidavits attesting that he does not possess these records.”

After the department denied three Right-to-Know Law requests on grounds they weren't “sufficiently specific,” Bagwell, a 2002 Penn State graduate, appealed to the state Office of Open Records, which ordered the release of the documents.

Attorneys for the Department of Education asked Commonwealth Court to reverse the agency's order and deny Bagwell's request.

“The department is fighting awfully hard to block access to records it claims it doesn't have,” Bagwell said.

In a Jan. 28 letter to Bagwell, Tomalis said a “reasonable search” found no such records in his possession, custody or control.

“It is understood that this does not mean they do not exist under another spelling, another name or under another classification,” the letter said.

The Freeh Report suggested a conspiracy among deposed university President Graham Spanier, suspended athletic director Tim Curley, former administrator Gary Schultz, 63, and the longtime coach Joe Paterno to cover up the 1998 and 2001 incidents in which Sandusky was reported to have showered with young boys in university athletic facilities.

A Centre County jury in June convicted Sandusky, 68, of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period, often inside Penn State athletic facilities. A judge sentenced him last month to 30 to 60 years in state prison.

Prosecutors charged Spanier, 64, of State College with five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, endangering the welfare of children and failure to report abuse. Curley and Schultz are charged with lying to a grand jury.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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