Pulling no punches, a special investigator asserted Thursday that four top Penn State University officials, including late football coach Joe Paterno, not only allowed but enabled more than a decade of child sex abuse by former football assistant Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity.
The report, by former FBI director Louis Freeh, condemned the conduct of Mr. Paterno, former university president Graham Spanier, retired vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley.
"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized," Mr. Freeh, a former federal judge, said at a news conference in Philadelphia.
"These individuals, unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties, empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to the university's facilities and affiliation with the university's prominent football program. Indeed, that continued access provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims," the report said.
It also concluded that the four "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the University's Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large," in what Mr. Freeh called a "callous and shocking disregard for child victims."
A special investigative task force, acting on behalf of the university's trustees, retained Mr. Freeh and his law firm in November. It promised a comprehensive and unbiased investigation of the sex abuse scandal. Kenneth Frazier, who chaired the special investigation task force for the trustees, said the members' "hearts remain heavy" as they accept responsibility for not providing more oversight.
"We failed to ask the right questions, the tough questions or to take definitive action," Mr. Frazier said. "Put simply, we did not force the issue."
Mr. Sandusky was convicted last month on 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over a span of 15 years. The scandal led to the ouster of Mr. Spanier and Mr. Paterno, who died in January of complications from lung cancer. It also resulted in charges against Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley, who are awaiting trial accused of failing to properly report suspected child abuse and lying to a grand jury.
State Attorney General Linda Kelly praised the work of the Freeh investigation and said the report should help Penn State and the public understand "how this disturbing situation developed, as well as how to prevent it from being repeated in the future."
She also said the report will not cause a problem for the ongoing criminal investigation of Penn State. Indeed, pinning down some of the details in the criminal case against Mr. Sandusky was done through emails obtained by the Freeh group.
"Today's release of the Freeh report will not hinder the continuing work of our statewide investigating grand jury, nor will it impact ongoing criminal prosecutions," she said.
The 267-page report, based on more than 430 interviews and 3.5 million emails and other documents, said Mr. Paterno knew about and closely followed a 1998 investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Sandusky with a boy in a football locker room shower but failed to take action.
According to the report, before May 1998, several staff members and football coaches "regularly observed Sandusky showering with young boys in the Lasch Building ... none of the individuals interviewed notified their superiors of this behavior."
After the mother of a young boy reported a possible sexual assault by Sandusky on May 3, 1998, university police and the state Department of Public Welfare investigated. Two days later, Mr. Schultz wrote in his notes: "Is this the opening of Pandora's box? Other children?"
On June 9, 1998, Mr. Schultz sent an email to Mr. Spanier and Mr. Curley, saying, "I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us."
No charges were filed in connection with that incident, and none of the Penn State hierarchy spoke to Mr. Sandusky about his conduct. Nor did they limit his access to Penn State facilities or take "any measures to protect children on their campuses," the report said.
Mr. Freeh faulted all four university officials for not notifying the Board of Trustees or taking other action. "None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity," he said.
Noting that Mr. Sandusky was convicted of several assaults that occurred after 1998, the report said some of the assaults "might have been prevented had Sandusky been prohibited from bringing minors to University facilities and University football bowl games."
The report appeared to contradict Mr. Paterno's sworn testimony before a grand jury in January 2011. He was questioned about graduate assistant Mike McQueary's allegation that he saw Mr. Sandusky abusing a child in the locker room shower in February 2001.
Toward the end of his seven minutes of testimony, Mr. Paterno was asked if he knew "in any way" of other inappropriate sexual contact by Mr. Sandusky with young boys and replied: "I do not know of anything else that Jerry would be involved in of that nature, no. I do not know of it. You did mention -- I think you said something about a rumor. It may have been discussed in my presence, something else about somebody. I don't know. I don't remember, and I could not honestly say I heard a rumor."
Mr. Paterno was invited to be interviewed by the Freeh group in December, and while he expressed interest in doing so, the report said, he died before it could occur.
The investigation also revealed that Mr. Spanier, Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley developed an "action plan" that included reporting the February 2001 incident to the state Department of Public Welfare.
But two days later, after discussing the matter with Mr. Paterno, Mr. Curley recommended instead that they offer Mr. Sandusky "professional help" and only notify the welfare department if he was uncooperative.
Mr. Spanier approved that approach, writing in an email that the "only downside for us is if the message isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed."
Timothy K. Lewis and Peter Vaira, who represent Mr. Spanier, issued this written statement in response to the report:
"Unfortunately, Judge Freeh's conclusion, repeated often during his press conference [Thursday] morning, that Dr. Spanier was engaged in a course of 'active concealment,' is simply not supported by the facts or by the report itself.
"Not only did Dr. Spanier never conceal anything from law enforcement authorities, but prior to 2011 he was never contacted by law enforcement officials, or any other officials, about any criminal activities now attributed to Sandusky."
The attorneys also said Mr. Spanier was never told of any incident with Mr. Sandusky that involved child abuse, sexual misconduct or any criminality.
Attorneys for Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley issued statements late Thursday asserting that the Freeh report was "incomplete" and "lopsided," and that, without subpoena power, the investigation failed to gather information from key witnesses, such as Mr. McQueary, the Centre County assistant district attorney involved in the 1998 query of Mr. Sandusky and the former Penn State University police chief.
"Since the Attorney General's office prevented Louis Freeh and his team access to critical witnesses with full knowledge of all of the facts, the Freeh Report is not fair, full, accurate or complete," said Tom Farrell, who represents Mr. Schultz.
Caroline Roberto, the attorney for Mr. Curley, concurred, saying:
"The Freeh Group was limited in its investigation by lack of subpoena power and the reluctance of many people to be interviewed."
Both attorneys said their clients are looking forward to trial, where they say the full story will be aired.
The Freeh report looked beyond the Sandusky scandal, finding laudable aspects of the university, including collegiality and high academic and research standards, but adding "there is an over-emphasis on 'The Penn State Way' as an approach to decision making, a resistance to outside perspectives, and an extensive focus on athletics that can, if not recognized, negatively impact the University's reputation as a progressive institution."
The athletic department in particular was "permitted to become a closed culture" for the past several decades, the report said.
"There was little personnel turnover or hiring from outside the University and strong internal loyalty. ... The Athletic Department was perceived by many in the Penn State community as 'an island' where staff members lived by their own rules."
Mr. Paterno's family issued a statement, portraying the late coach as human and fallible.
"One great risk in this situation is a replaying of events from the last 15 years or so in a way that makes it look obvious what everyone must have known and should have done," the statement said. "The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept. The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn't fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events. Sandusky was a great deceiver.
"Joe Paterno wasn't perfect. He made mistakes and he regretted them. He is still the only leader to step forward and say that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more. To think, however, that he would have protected Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity is simply not realistic."
In addressing the report Thursday afternoon, Karen Peetz, the chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, said the trustees "accept full responsibility for the failures that occurred."
Later, she continued, "We are horrified. We're saddened. There are not enough superlatives."
Ms. Peetz credited the trustees with already making improvements to university oversight, including the creation of committees for risk, audit, compliance and governance, and said they will continue to earn back the community's trust.
Mr. Freeh said he found no evidence that the trustees were made aware of the 1998 or 2001 allegations against Mr. Sandusky but said "that does not shield the Board from criticism.
"In this matter, the Board -- despite its duties of care and oversight of the university and its officers -- failed to create an environment which held the university's most senior leaders accountable to it."
Several people interviewed by investigators said Mr. Sandusky was treated "like a god" by certain university employees. The report said he continued to receive football season tickets in Beaver Stadium's exclusive Nittany Lion Club as recently as last season.
It said Mr. Curley deleted Mr. Sandusky's name from the annual invitation list before last season but reversed himself after a call from Mr. Sandusky's wife.
Several people told investigators that they were under the impression Mr. Sandusky had been cleared of allegations in newspaper reports because of his continued attendance at games.
The report also makes note of the university's continued business relationship with Mr. Sandusky after his 1999 retirement. According to university records, Penn State made 71 separate payments to Mr. Sandusky for travel, meals, lodging, speaking engagements, camps and other activities from 2000 to 2008.
The investigators answered one question that had persisted for months, concerning whether Mr. Sandusky was forced into retirement in June 1999 after the child sexual abuse investigation by campus police about a year earlier. The investigators said they "found no evidence to indicate that Sandusky's retirement was related to the police investigation of him in 1998."
Mr. Freeh expressed hope that the report will be a catalyst for change at University Park.
"The release of our report today marks the beginning of a process for Penn State, and not the end," Mr. Freeh said. "It is critical that Old Main, the Board and the Penn State community never forget these failures and commit themselves to strengthening an open, compliant and victim-sensitive environment -- where everyone has the duty to 'blow the whistle' on anyone who breaks this trust, no matter how powerful or prominent they may appear to be."