Justice Delayed

11.02.12

New Penn State Indictments: What Took So Long?

Former university president Graham Spanier has been indicted on five charges, including failure to report suspect child abuse. Insiders tell Diane Dimond why the only surprise here is the timing.

The charges as outlined by the attorney general of Pennsylvania were sweeping: perjury, obstruction of justice, endangering the welfare of children, criminal conspiracy, and failure to report suspected child abuse as mandated by federal law. The five-count criminal indictment against former Penn State president Graham Spanier, 65, has been met not with surprise but with one universal reaction: "What took so long?"

For the last year it has been a mystery how Spanier—the man who sat in the president's chair at Penn State University for 16 years could have dodged the Jerry Sandusky bullet. Especially after the scandal claimed the career of Penn State's iconic head football coach Joe Paterno after a 45-year reign and two top PSU officials were indicted in November, 2010 on charges of lying to a grand jury and failure to report suspected child abuse.

While both former PSU vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley steadfastly maintained their innocence and prepared to fight the charges in court, Spanier launched a public relations counter attack he hoped would keep him from being criminally charged. It obviously did not work.

In late August, after Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child sex abuse, Spanier broke his months-long silence to tell both The New Yorker and ABC News that he never knew anything about an angry mother's 1998 complaint that Sandusky had showered with her boy and acted inappropriately. Spanier further stated he never understood that the "horseplay" between Sandusky and a boy in the Penn State showers in 2001 was sexual in nature. It was the same story he had told last year to the grand jury—testimony which has now resulted in the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

"Mr. Spanier's indictment is  a self-inflicted wound resulting from his failure to truthfully testify about his knowledge the 1998 Sandusky incident, documented in emails," attorney Tom Kline told The Daily Beast. Kline, the attorney for the young man known at trial as Victim No. 5 added, "After the Freeh Report revelation of this, it was inevitable that he would be indicted."

Whether Spanier’s "top secret security clearance" remains active isn't known.

Kline confirms he has now entered into preliminary settlement discussions with the Penn State negotiating team put in place to settle numerous personal injury claims against the university.

Slade McLaughlin, the lawyer for Victim No. 1, the youngster whose complaints first sparked the Sandusky investigation, issued a statement full of sharp criticism for the former PSU president saying the indictments were long overdue. McLaughlin specifically zeroed in Spanier's handling of another past sex abuse allegation.

"It comes as little surprise that Mr. Spanier is accused of a cover-up with regard to Sandusky's evil deeds," McLaughlin wrote. "This is not the first accusation that Spanier covered up sexual abuse at PSU. Allegations from Phoenix-based private detective, Paul McLaughlin (no relation), reveal that, in 2002, reports were made to Spanier of abuse by a Penn State professor in the professor's penn State Office.  Spanier's purported response was to threaten to have the accuser arrested while simultaneously praising the professor's reputation."

McLaughlin confirms he has also had preliminary talks with Penn State's negotiating team, headed by Ken Feinberg. Feinberg is known as a no nonsense player who helped negotiate 9/11 settlements and other major victim compensation programs.  Feinberg's participation in the Penn State sex scandal is seen by victim's attorneys as an indication that Penn State would like to settle the Sandusky claims efficiently and as quickly as the cumbersome legal system allows.

Those close to Spanier do not believe he will lay down in the face of these long anticipated indictments. After the Freeh report concluded earlier this year that the trio of Spanier, Schultz and Curley displayed "a striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims," the former PSU president had his attorneys issue a scathing 18-page criticism of the report. Spanier made his national television debut later that night to announce it was preposterous to think that he, a victim of childhood physical abuse at the hands of his father, would ever allow a child to be harmed. And a letter Spanier wrote to the Penn State Board of Trustees further underscored his willingness to fight what he clearly sees as unfair allegations resulting from the Freeh investigation.

"Another investigation of my conduct, an investigation by federal officials responsible for my national top secret security clearance, was carried out simultaneously with the Freeh investigation," Spanier wrote to the board. "The investigation was significantly focused on any possible role I might have played in the Sandusky matter. At the conclusion of the investigation, my top secret clearance was reaffirmed."

Just what type work Spanier might have been engaged to perform for the federal government isn't known and no department has stepped forward to publicly claim him. There has been speculation that since Spanier was the first university president to work with music companies to educate students about illegal file sharing he may be engaged in some federal copyright work. Whether his "top secret security clearance" remains active isn't known.

Despite his criminal indictment and forced resignation as PSU president last year, Spanier is still listed as a faculty member in the "general and acad" departments.

The latest indictments were leveled not only against Spanier. Schultz and Curley also had additional counts added to their pending cases.

Now, all three men will face separate trials on the same five counts.