STATE COLLEGE, Pa (Reuters) - Two top Penn State officials quit their posts and were charged on Monday with covering up a sexual abuse scandal that has tarnished the reputation of revered football coach Joe Paterno.
Athletic Director Tim Curley and top finance official Gary Schultz appeared in court, charged with failing to tell police about the alleged sexual abuse of young boys by an assistant football coach even though they knew about it for years.
They also are accused of perjury before a grand jury probing the scandal.
“The charges at face value are disturbing to say the least,” District Judge William Wenner said at the brief hearing in the state capital of Harrisburg.
The charges involve alleged abuse by Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach at Penn State, who is accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with eight boys over a period of more than a decade.
The charges shocked the university and threaten to ruin the legacy of Penn State’s celebrated head coach Joe Paterno, who authorities said is not a target of investigation at this time.
“Nothing happened (reporting the alleged abuse) and nothing stopped and that’s very unusual,” Pennsylvania Police Commissioner Frank Noonan told a news conference on Monday.
Some details of the case are similar to the accusations that the Catholic Church swept sexual abuse by priests under the rug for decades.
Sandusky’s attorney Joe Amendola has said his client, who left Penn State coaching in 1999, was shaken by the charges but knew they were coming. “He’s maintained his innocence,” Amendola said.
In one of the incidents, Sandusky, 67, is alleged to have forced a boy as young a 10 to have sex with him in the shower at the football complex on campus in 2002, investigators said.
A graduate assistant saw the encounter and reported it to Paterno, who relayed the information to Athletic Director Curley.
“He (Paterno) had a responsibility to report the incident to school authorities and he did it,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly.
Sandusky, who continued to have access to Penn State facilities after leaving Paterno’s staff, is alleged to have recruited his victims from a charity he founded to help underprivileged children, called “The Second Mile,” authorities said.
The charity moved quickly on Monday to disassociate itself from Sandusky, saying in a statement that once the former coach informed them in 2008 that he was under investigation, they barred him from contact with children.
“From 2008 to present, Mr. Sandusky has had no involvement with Second Mile programs involving children,” the charity said.
But the abuse by Sandusky took place as far back as 1996, according to a statement from investigators, and the charity did not say what access he had before 2008;.
The failure of top university officials to notify police of the abuse has outraged students and alumni and prompted a late-night meeting of Penn State trustees on Monday, after which the two officials stepped down.
“Under no circumstances does the university tolerate behavior that would put children at risk, and we are deeply troubled,” said Steve Garban, chairman of the trustees.
Sandusky was arraigned on Saturday and released after posting $100,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday. Bail for Curley and Schultz was set at $75,000 each and a preliminary hearing set for November 17.
The alleged sexual assaults came to light after a graduate assistant said he saw Sandusky “sexually assaulting a naked boy who appeared to be about 10 years old” at the Lasch Football Building on the Penn State campus in March 2002, the grand jury report said.
Curley and Schultz later met with the graduate assistant and told Sandusky not to bring boys to the football building, but did not alert police, the report said.
Because the allegations relate to their responsibilities as university employees, Penn State is paying for the two men’s legal counsel, said school spokeswoman Lisa Powers.
Tyler Barnard, a Penn State junior from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, said he objected to that. “I want to start a protest movement saying I don’t want my tuition to pay for their screwups.”
Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Peter Bohan