By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Penn State leaders including former President Graham Spanier and late football coach Joe Paterno covered up Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse for years to save the reputation of the school and its multimillon-dollar football program, former FBI director Louis Freeh said on Thursday.
Their failure to stop Sandusky allowed the former assistant coach to continue luring victims for more than a decade, Freeh said after an eight-month investigation of the handling of the case commissioned by Pennsylvania State University trustees.
Sandusky, 68, was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years.
"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," Freeh said in a statement on his team's findings.
"In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University ... repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse."
Freeh also criticized the board that hired him, saying it failed to hold senior leaders accountable and declined to act after seeing a March 2011 media report about allegations against Sandusky.
The 267-page report could influence Penn State as it prepares for potential civil lawsuits. The university has already invited victims to try to resolve claims against the school. The report could also shed light on any criminal liability for two university officials charged with perjury and failing to report what they knew about Sandusky. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Sandusky, the defensive coach who helped turn Penn State into a perennial powerhouse under Paterno, was convicted on June 22 of 45 counts of child molestation involving 10 boys over 15 years and awaits sentencing, facing up to 373 years in prison.
The grand jury charges against Sandusky in November prompted the firing of Spanier and Paterno, the legendary "JoePa" who won more games than any other major college football coach. Paterno died two months later of lung cancer at age 85.
Penn State officials have come under scathing public criticism for how they reacted to the story of Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant who told them in 2001 he had seen Sandusky in a sexual position with a boy in a football locker room shower. Neither police nor child protective services was informed.
The Freeh report goes further, saying Paterno and others also knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky in which he was suspected of misconduct with a boy in a locker room shower.
Sandusky continued preying on young boys for years, prosecutors said. At least half of Sandusky's 10 known victims were abused after 1998, and the university allowed Sandusky to retire in glory in 1999.
"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized," Freeh said.
"In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity," he added.
Former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former university vice president, face charges of perjury and failure to report suspected abuse in the case.
"Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky's victims until after Sandusky's arrest," Freeh said.
"Even though they all knew about the 1998 incident, the best they could muster to protect Sandusky's victims was to ask Sandusky not to bring his 'guests' into the Penn State facilities," Freeh said.
Freeh was a U.S. District judge when former President Bill Clinton named him to run the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1993. He remained in the post through 2001.
Freeh and his team conducted more than 430 interviews in its investigation, including with school staff, coaches, athletes and others, and sifted through 3.5 million emails and documents. The most damaging evidence came from the discovery of "critical" emails exchanged in 1998 and 2001.
Among the emails was a series in which top school officials discussed reporting the allegations about Sandusky to authorities, even going so far as to propose a plan. After speaking with Paterno, however, "they changed the plan and decided not to make a report" to police or child protective services.
"Their failure to protect the February 9, 2001 child victim, or make attempts to identify him, created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him," Freeh said.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Barbara Goldberg and Joseph O'Leary; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Doina Chiacu)
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