PHILADELPHIA - Former FBI Director Louis Freeh wasted few words on Thursday describing the "cover-up" orchestrated by top Penn State officials in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, describing their actions as a concealed effort focused more on protecting the university's image than safeguarding children abused by the former defensive coordinator.
The 267-page report, the culmination of an eight-month investigation that included more than 430 people interviewed and 3.5 million documents examined, outlined the failure of former Penn State President Graham Spanier and the late football coach Joe Paterno to alert authorities or stop Sandusky after child abuse allegations emerged in 1998.
"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 his opening remarks at the Westin Philadelphia. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."
"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.
After first learning of an incident in which a mother came forward to police on May 3, 1998, with claims her son was molested by Sandusky, Spanier and Paterno, as well as former university vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley, continued to receive updates of the investigation.
Days later, Schultz's handwritten notes asked the question of "opening Pandora's box?" and the possibility of other children coming forward.
None of the four men - Spanier, Paterno, Curley or Schultz - ever approached Sandusky about the incident, Freeh said.
Penn State police asked Sandusky to refrain from showering with boys on university property, but no charges were filed and the Board of Trustees was not informed of the investigation.
The incident was one of several times officials were made aware of Sandusky's inappropriate behavior with minors on university property. None of the men ever attempted to learn the name of the child involved in the incident, with Schultz emailing Spanier and Curley, "I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us," according to Freeh.
The Board of Trustees was not made aware of the investigation in Sandusky's behavior until May 2011, when Spanier and former university attorney Cynthia Baldwin briefed the group.
The seriousness of the investigation was downplayed by Spanier and Baldwin - but the Board of Trustees failed to hold the school's administrators responsible, Freeh wrote.
Trustees interviewed by Freeh and his team described trustees' meetings as "scripted," with the board "rubber stamping" decisions already put into place by Spanier and a select group of board members.
Trustees "failed to create an environment which held the university's most senior leaders accountable to it," Freeh wrote.
The Penn State culture where the board of trustees failed to hold its top administrators accountable extended across the university, Freeh wrote.
The "tone on the bottom" and lack of transparency showed the fear university employees exhibited when tasked with challenging the football program about Sandusky, Freeh said.
Janitors who witnessed Sandusky abusing a boy in the Lasch Building showers in November of 2000 exemplified that fear, Freeh said.
"They witnessed, what I think in the report, is probably the most horrific rape that is described," Freeh said. "And what do they do? They panic."
"They were afraid to take on the football program," Freeh said. "If that's the culture on the bottom, god help the culture at the top."
According to the report, after then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno of "inappropriate" behavior he witnessed between Sandusky and a boy in the Lasch building showers in February 2001, Paterno told him, "You did what you had to do. It's my job now to figure out what we want to do."
"I think that's a very telling, critical statement," Freeh said.
After an exchange between Curley and Paterno, the plan to report Sandusky to authorities was changed, Freeh said.
When asked if Paterno's firing was justified, Freeh simply responded, "Yes."
After the press conference, Philadelphia Attorney Tom Kline, who represents Victim 5, described the Freeh report as a set of "guidelines" which outline arguments for the offices of the Pennsylvania Attorney General, Department of Education and NCAA in future legal suits against the university.
The crimes Sandusky committed - and subsequent cover-up undertaken by the university's top officers - represented a moral failure on the part of the university, Kline said.
"They were bankrupt morally and wrong legally," Kline said.
Sandusky's retirement in 1999 was "bogus," Kline said.
The Freeh report identified Sandusky's retirement settlement of $168,000 as an "unusual" lump sum of money for a university official. Sandusky also retained unrestricted use of the East Area Locker Room facilities after leaving the school.
Penn State was an enabler for Sandusky to continue abusing young children, Kline said. No one - including Paterno - attempted to stop Sandusky from committing abuses against children on university property, he added.
In his opening remarks, Freeh said: "At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff, in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building."
"[Sandusky] was parading children around like they were trophies," Kline said.
Wendy Silverwood, a member of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, spoke passionately about her personal distrust of the Board of Trustees . She demanded to know why Baldwin and certain Board of Trustees officials were not interviewed by Freeh and his team.
"I am extremely outraged at the university board," Silverwood said. "I have no confidence in their leadership."
Brian Masella, who played under Paterno in the 1970s, questioned why McQueary, members of the Paterno family and Gov. Tom Corbett were left out of the investigation.
"The evidence is obviously strong, but not all the evidence is in," Masella said. "They should all resign and take the governor with them."
Despite previous failures, Freeh said Penn State was quick to adopt several of his initial recommenendations, including a strict enforcement of the Clery Act. The report released on Thursday outlined an additional 119 recommendations, including an internal examination of the Penn State culture and the university itself.
But the top officials of the university failed in their leadership roles to prevent the abuse from occurring and report Sandusky to the authorities. Freeh described the failure of the top four officials of the university - Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz - as a "weakness of the university's culture, governance, administration, compliance policies and procedure protecting children."
Paterno, with his influence over the university, could have stopped Sandusky, Freeh said. Paterno failed to take any action despite following the investigation closely, he said.
But every level of university officials - from the "top four" failing to report the abuse to the Board of Trustees' failure to question the university's leadership - are responsible, he said. The information was ultimately concealed to protect the university's reputation rather than prevent the sexual abuse of children, Freeh concluded.
"There's more red flags here than you can count," Freeh said of the initial report of Sandusky's misconduct.
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.