HARRISBURG, Penn. (Reuters) - Family members of the late Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno on Sunday released a report they commissioned that said that a former FBI director’s finding that Paterno helped cover up a child sex abuse scandal was flawed and unfair.
The new report came seven months after former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was hired by Penn State’s trustees to investigate the handling of allegations that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was molesting boys, found that Paterno and other high-ranking university officials covered up Sandusky’s actions and did not care about his victims.
The new analysis, released on www.paterno.com, said the Freeh report is “deeply flawed and that its conclusions as to Joe Paterno are unfair and unsupported.”
Paterno, who died in January 2012, “never asked anybody to conceal anything,” lawyer Wick Sollers, one of four people hired by the Paterno family to conduct its own investigation on the handling of the Sandusky scandal, said Sunday on ESPN.
“The whole notion that there was a conspiracy to conceal is simply wrong and the Freeh Group got it wrong,” Sollers said on “Outside the Lines.”
Sandusky is now serving a 30- to 60-year sentence following his conviction last summer on charges he sexually abused 10 boys in a 15-year period. Former university president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley, and ex-security official Gary Schultz were charged with child endangerment, perjury, criminal conspiracy, failure to report suspected child abuse, and obstruction charges.
Spanier, Curley and Schultz, who have maintained their innocence, have not yet been tried.
“I respect the right of the Paterno family to hire private lawyers and former government officials to conduct public media campaigns in an effort to shape the legacy of Joe Paterno,” Freeh said in a statement Sunday. “However, the self-serving report the Paterno family has issued today does not change the facts established in the Freeh report or alter the conclusions reached in the Freeh report.”
The Paterno family appears to be attempting to reclaim the iconic image of the late head coach while providing ammunition for a possible lawsuit against college sports’ governing body, the NCAA, for its historic $60 million fine and sanctions against the university. Those penalties were based on the Freeh Group’s report.
Former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh, one of the people hired by the Paterno family, said the Freeh report was incomplete and full of inaccuracies.
“They state they carried out 430 interviews,” Thornburgh said on the same ESPN program. “None of those were with the principal persons involved in these events. I think to represent that as a complete report is a good deal of misgiving about how thorough this was.”
David La Torre, a spokesman for Penn State said in a statement Sunday that the Freeh report was an internal investigation into Penn State’s response and that it was not within its scope to review the actions of people outside the university.
“It is understandable and appreciated that people will draw their own conclusions and opinions from the facts uncovered in the Freeh report,” La Torre said.
He added that the university has implemented the majority of the Freeh report’s 119 recommendations in areas such as safety and governance and plans to implement most of the others by the end of the year.
Sue Paterno, the late head coach’s wife, said in a letter to Penn State football lettermen that she wanted her own probe of Freeh’s handling of his investigation because “I did not recognize the man Mr. Freeh described.”
“I will not attempt in this letter to summarize the report of the experts except to say that they unreservedly and forcefully confirm my beliefs about Joe’s conduct,” Sue Paterno wrote. “They present a passionate and persuasive critique of the Freeh report as a total disservice to the victims of Sandusky and the cause of preventing child sex offenses.”
Additional reporting by Dave Warner; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Bill Trott