In what’s been reported to be “a multimillion dollar settlement” with a young man identified in court as victim No. 5, Penn State University has begun to close the ugliest chapter of its 158-year history. Tom Kline, the attorney for victim No. 5, tells The Daily Beast: “This has been a long and painful process for a young man who had swept all this into the darkest corners of his mind. The best word to describe his feelings now is relief.”
Neither Kline nor his client is allowed to divulge the amount of the settlement.
It has been 14 months since a verdict was reached in the child sexual abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky, a man who had been one of PSU’s most popular assistant football coaches. Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault on a child, corruption of minors and other charges.
While only 10 victims were mentioned during Sandusky’s trial, there have been 31 claims filed with Penn State by young men who say the institution should have known about their former coach’s predatory nature and taken steps to stop him. Penn State has set aside $60 million to fund the settlements. Various sources involved in the negotiations tell The Daily Beast that 25 or 26 of the claims will result in significant monetary settlements; the other cases may go to trial. These same sources say the university seems intent on getting the settlements out of the way before fall classes begin on August 26.
Attorney Joel Feller, whose Philadelphia-based law firm represents several claimants, tells The Daily Beast, “We have reached an agreement to settle on behalf of all seven of our clients. We are now in the final stages of reaching a final settlement.” He would not confirm reports that each of the claimants will receive six-figure settlements.
Among Feller’s clients is 34-year-old Matt Sandusky, one of the Sanduskys’ six adopted children, who stunned the community when he alleged during jury deliberations that as a child he had been molested by the coach for years. Feller also represents victim No. 2, whose story was the subject of bombshell trial testimony.
He was never identified by name in court, but what happened to victim No. 2 was told by assistant football coach Michael McQueary. McQueary testified that in February 2001, he told Penn State officials that he had been an eyewitness to a sex act between Sandusky and an unidentified young boy in the university’s shower room adjacent to the football lockers. McQueary said even after he told Coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley (now retired), and senior vice president Gary Schultz, who also supervised the campus police department, no definitive action was taken against Sandusky.
Slade McLaughlin, the lawyer for victim No. 1—the very first boy who went to police and demanded an investigation into what he said were years of Sandusky molestation—revealed in an e-mail, “We’re close [to settlement] too.”
Each young man who accepts a Penn State payment agrees to forego all further claims, and this makes for what one attorney called a win-win situation. “This means Penn State retains the right to do two things,” Kline said. “[PSU] can get money back from their insurers and from Second Mile and Second Mile’s insurance company.” At the end of the process, the university has an opportunity to get back a significant amount of what they have paid out.
The testimony that brought about this first Penn State agreement to pay was unforgettable. Victim No. 5 told the court he had come from a home where only Polish was spoken and was sent to Sandusky’s Second Mile summer camp program in the summer of 2001 at age 10 to help hone his English. The young man testified that he and Sandusky had come together over their shared Polish heritage. When he began to describe the coach’s grooming behavior, the jury had to literally lean forward to hear him. After a brief workout in the gym, the witness said, Sandusky told him it was time to shower.
“I tried to face the wall as much as I could,” the young man said. His voice cracked as his mother and father silently watched from a front row.
“I noticed his penis was enlarged. I just didn’t understand the significance of it then.” And the witness began to sniff and take in gasps of air to calm himself. “He threw [foam] soap at me and started rubbing my shoulders …” There was a pause in his testimony. “I felt his body on my back. I tried to move away but there was no more space for me to go. I felt his penis on my back …” Another pause as he struggled for control. “He touched my genitalia. He took my hand and placed it on his. I was able to get around the corner and get away.” The witness was offered a tissue for his sniffles and he wiped his nose and eyes as he explained that they got dressed in silence that day and without a word Sandusky drove him home. He never called again, the boy said.
It is now clear how important the date of victim No. 5’s molestation was to his settlement. Penn State’s executives—Curley, Schultz and the university’s former president Graham Spanier—are all awaiting trial on charges of knowing about Sandusky’s behavior dating back to 1998 and lying to a grand jury investigating Sandusky. The first hint of trouble came when an irate mother called campus police that year complaining that the coach had showered with her young son, who would later be referred to as Victim No 6. That mother and son’s testimony during trial, coupled with McQueary’s testimony about 2001, appears to have prompted Penn State to begin the settlement process with the young man of Polish descent.
“No. 5 is probably the singular one of the claims that has come to the university's attention where it absolutely, positively could have been stopped," the university’s settlement attorney Michael Rozen told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Attorney Kline agreed. “My client’s claim was pivotal because his was the one undeniable case where if Shultz, Curley, and Paterno had acted properly, his assault in the shower would have been avoided.”
Those claims in which molestation is alleged to have occurred before 1998 are problematic since there has been no evidence that the university knew about Sandusky’s pedophilic tendencies before that year. Yet that is not an ironclad determining factor.
Take the case of Matt Sandusky. He was befriended by Coach Sandusky in the early 90s and was officially adopted in 1997 at the age of 18. Still, his lawyer maintains that Matt, now 34, will be among those who will soon come to a monetary settlement with Penn State. Last month, the reclusive Matt Sandusky petitioned a court and was granted a name change for himself, his wife and four children.
“No amount of money is going to take away what these young men have been through and will go through the rest of their lives,” attorney Feller said. “They are pleased this part is over and they can focus on healing.”
That could prove problematic as Jerry Sandusky’s appeal hearing is set for next month and is sure to garner another round of new headlines.