AP graphic of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno
(USA TODAY) - Senior Penn State administrators exhibited a "total disregard for the safety and welfare'' of the children who were sexually abused by former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, according to an internal investigation of the university.
"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized,'' the investigation concluded.
It cited former Penn State University president Graham Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz, former head football coach Joe Paterno and Athletic Director Tim Curley, now on leave, as never demonstrating "through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky's victims until after Sandusky's arrest."
The report by former FBI director Louis Freeh comes less than three weeks after Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 victims during a span of 15 years. Sandusky is in a central Pennsylvania county jail awaiting formal sentencing.
A "critical written correspondence'' uncovered earlier this year, investigators said, contained evidence of a proposed plan to report to law enforcement authorities a 2001 incident involving Sandusky and a young boy in a university shower room that was witnessed by football assistant Michael McQueary.
MORE: Read through the entire Freeh Report
"After Mr. Curley consulted with Mr. Paterno, however, they changed the plan and decided not to make a report to the authorities,'' the report said. "Their failure to protect the ... 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."
"Further,'' the report said, "they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child's identity, about what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001."
Citing witness statements and other evidence, the university officials acted "in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity.''
"The most powerful leaders at Penn State University - Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley - repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large.
"Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky's victims.''
Penn State immediately released a statement that said officials are "currently reviewing (Freeh's) findings and recommendations. We expect a comprehensive analysis of our policies, procedures and controls related to identifying and reporting crimes and misconduct, including failures or gaps that may have allowed alleged misconduct to go undetected or unreported."
The university was expected to comment later Thursday afternoon.
The review, which focused on how top Penn State administration officials dealt with Sandusky during the time of the abuse and following a 2001 report of the former coach's abuse of a young boy in a university football locker-room, is likely to have immediate implications on a continuing state grand jury investigation and the pending perjury trial of Athletic Director Tim Curley, now on leave, and retired vice president Gary Schultz.
The two administrators, who have denied any wrongdoing, are charged with lying to the grand jury about a report of the 2001 incident that was related to them by Penn State football assistant Michael McQueary.
McQueary, a key prosecution witness in the Sandusky criminal trial, said he told the administrators and head football coach Joe Paterno that Sandusky was engaged in "extremely sexual" conduct with a boy, who looked to be as young as 10. The boy has never been found.
Curley and Schultz told the grand jury that McQueary's report did not include an account of sexual activity.
The incident was at the heart of the university's decision, following Sandusky's November arrest, to remove Penn State President Graham Spanier from his post and fire Paterno, a college football legend who had directed the program for nearly a half century.
Freeh's report also could have profound consequences for Spanier and the legacy of Paterno, who died in January shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Neither man was charged when the initial criminal case was filed last fall, but Spanier's attorneys and Paterno's family - in advance of Freeh's report - have issued strong statements claiming they did not attempt to cover for Sandusky. The statements refer to a recent CNN report, citing e-mails obtained by Freeh's investigation, which suggest that Spanier was made aware of the 2001 incident involving Sandusky and that a decision was made not to notify authorities after a reported consultation with Paterno.
"At no time in the more than 16 years of his presidency at Penn State was Dr. Spanier told of an incident involving Jerry Sandusky that described child abuse, sexual misconduct or criminality of any kind," Spanier attorneys Peter Vaira and Elizabeth Ainslie said earlier this week. "Selected leaks, without the full context, are distorting the public record and creating a false picture.''
In a separate statement earlier this week, Paterno's family said that the coach "did not cover up for Jerry Sandusky."
"Joe Paterno did not know that Jerry Sandusky was a pedophile. Joe Paterno did not act in any way to prevent a proper investigation of Jerry Sandusky. To claim otherwise is a distortion of the truth."
Citing the leaked e-mails, the Paterno statement went on to question the integrity of Freeh inquiry.
"Since Joe Paterno never had an opportunity to present his case, we believe we should have a reasonable time to review their findings and offer information that could help complete the picture," the statement said. "It is our firm belief that the (Freeh) report would be stronger and more credible if we were simply given a chance to review the findings concerning Joe Paterno in order to present a case he was never allowed to make."
Beyond the potential legal and personal ramifications, the Freeh report also could represent more financial liability for the university which is bracing for a wave of civil lawsuits from attorneys representing Sandusky's eight known victims who testified at the former coach's trial.
Immediately following the Sandusky guilty verdicts, Penn State issued a statement indicating its willingness to provide compensation for the victims. But attorneys representing at least two of the victims said they were planning legal action, regardless, but only after reviewing the Freeh report.
"The moment the verdict was announced against Sandusky, the landscape of this scandal shifted toward a new focus on Penn State," said attorney Tom Kline, who represents one of Sandusky's victims.
"There is no doubt that we are going to file a claim against Penn State," Kline said. "Jerry Sandusky may have been the perpetrator, but Penn State was his enabler."
Wes Oliver, a Widener University law professor who has been closely monitoring the case, said it is in Penn State's "best interest to attempt to resolve the lingering matters quickly."
"The verdicts were so overwhelming against Sandusky," Oliver said, "that it suggests there shouldn't have been any doubt early on" that Sandusky represented a threat to children.
"It could take years to resolve these claims, but it is in everyone's best interest to settle these differences quickly," he said.