Penn State board was told of Sandusky grand jury in May

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In May, weeks after a grand jury investigation of child sex allegations involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky surfaced, Penn State University trustees met with university general counsel Cynthia Baldwin and then-president Graham Spanier.

The May 12 "seminar" session, held on the eve of that month's regular trustees meeting, was open to the full board and all but a few members attended. The board was about to get a briefing on a matter that months later would blow up into the worst scandal in the university's history.

Until now, almost nothing was known about the session and whether it contained enough information to spur board action. But details about the meeting in the Nittany Lion Inn on the University Park campus have begun to emerge.

In interviews this week with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Lanny Davis, a prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer hired to give legal advice to the office of Penn State President Rodney Erickson, offered a rough outline of what transpired based on discussion with university officials. He described the Sandusky session as relatively short and said it occurred after Mr. Spanier had given testimony to the grand jury.

Mr. Davis said attendees included the board's two top officials -- Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John Surma. He said trustee Kenneth Frazier, now leading an investigative committee looking into Penn State's handling of the matter, did not attend.

"Mr. Spanier and Cynthia Baldwin gave a briefing lasting under an hour regarding the status of the grand jury investigation but limited by the rules of grand jury secrecy," Mr. Davis said. "That means Cynthia Baldwin could not divulge anything about the content of individual testimony."

It's uncertain if Mr. Spanier informed trustees during the session about a 2002 campus allegation never reported to police that Mr. Sandusky had sexually assaulted a boy in a campus shower.

However, Mr. Davis said "it is my understanding that no one [at the meeting] can recall any mention of the 2002 incident."

"The only thing they recall is a brief description of another investigation of Mr. Sandusky involving alleged misconduct at the Second Mile Foundation" that did not involve Penn State and occurred after Mr. Sandusky retired. Mr. Sandusky founded the nonprofit Second Mile for disadvantaged kids.

"It's my understanding that [trustees] were left with the impression that this was not a serious (campus) matter," he said. He said they apparently did not interpret the briefing as requiring follow-up and did not take further action.

Mr. Spanier and Ms. Baldwin have not responded to interview requests on the matter. Mr. Garban and Mr. Surma also have been unavailable.

The briefing did give trustees official confirmation -- nearly six months before Mr. Sandusky's arrest -- of an active grand jury investigation.

On Friday, Penn State trustees who have come under fire along with other university officials will meet on the University Park campus. The agenda includes election of officers, including the board's chairman.

Mr. Sandusky's November arrest and revelations of the 2002 shower incident unleashed a national media firestorm. Within five days, trustees met privately and announced the firing of longtime football coach Joe Paterno and the resignation of Mr. Spanier amid growing criticisms that university officials had not done enough in the months leading up to the arrest.

Penn State officials have said that university leaders including trustees had little more to go on before the arrest besides a March story in the Patriot-News in Harrisburg.

Mr. Erickson said he read about the grand jury investigation but did not inquire further, noting the only new allegations in the article seemed to involve incidents in a county other than where Penn State is located.


Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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