Disturbing e-mails could spell more trouble for Penn State officials

Lawyer: Penn State e-mails are appalling
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Story highlights

  • The e-mails are purportedly between ex-Penn State officials Spanier, Schultz and Curley
  • The messages were from 2001, after McQueary reported a suspected sexual encounter
  • Jerry Sandusky was recently convicted of abusing 10 boys over 15 years
  • Schultz and Curley have been charged with perjury, which they have pleaded not guilty to

With convicted serial child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky behind bars, new questions are surfacing about what Penn State officials knew about a 2001 incident involving the former assistant football coach's encounter with a boy in the shower -- and whether they covered up the incident.

Sandusky sexually abused other boys in the years after the 2001 incident and before his arrest.

CNN does not have the purported e-mails. However, the alleged contents were read to CNN.

The messages indicate former Penn State President Graham Spanier and two other former university officials knew they had a problem with Sandusky after a 2001 shower incident, but apparently first decided to handle it using a "humane" approach before contacting outside authorities whose job it is to investigate suspected abuse.

"This is a more humane and upfront way to handle this,' Gary Schultz, who was a university vice president at the time, allegedly wrote.

Records show no authorities were ever contacted and Sandusky was eventually charged with having sexual contact with four more boys after the 2001 incident. On June 22, Sandusky was convicted of abusing 10 boys over 15 years.

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Painful chapter closes with Sandusky's conviction

In an exchange of messages from February 26 to February 28, 2001, Spanier allegedly acknowledges Penn State could be "vulnerable" for not reporting the incident, according to two sources with knowledge of the case.

"The only downside for us is if the message (to Sandusky) isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it," Spanier purportedly writes.

The alleged e-mails among Spanier, Schultz, 62, and former Athletic Director Tim Curley, 57, never mention Sandusky by name, instead referring to him as "the subject" and "the person." Children that Sandusky brought on campus --some of whom might have been victims -- are referred to as "guests."

The purported exchanges began 16 days after graduate assistant Mike McQueary first told Head Coach Joe Paterno on February 9, 2001, that McQueary believed he saw Sandusky make sexual contact with a boy in a locker room shower.

Since the scandal broke, Schultz and Curley have publicly maintained McQueary reported only inappropriate conduct -- horsing around. The purported e-mails indicate the men could be at additional risk for not disclosing the matter to authorities. Schultz and Curley are currently charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury and failing to report suspected child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.

How the case unfolded

Paterno testified before a grand jury that McQueary was "very upset" and said he saw Sandusky "doing something with a youngster. It was a sexual nature," according to a transcript. Paterno testified he told his boss, Curley. Curley and Schultz contacted McQueary about a week and half later about the incident.

In an alleged e-mail dated February 26, 2001, Schultz writes to Curley that he assumes Curley's "got the ball" about a three-part plan to "talk with the subject asap regarding the future appropriate use of the University facility," ... "contacting the chair of the charitable organization" and "contacting the Department of Welfare," according to a source with knowledge of the case.

(The "subject" is Sandusky and his Second Mile charity is the "charitable organization," according to a source with knowledge of the e-mails. Pennsylvania law requires suspected child abuse be reported to outside authorities, including the state's child welfare agencies).

But then, something changes.

The next evening, February 27, Curley allegedly writes to Spanier; Schultz, who's out of the office for two weeks, is copied.

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Curley refers to a meeting scheduled that day with Spanier and indicates they apparently discussed the Sandusky incident two days earlier.

Curley indicates he no longer wants to contact child welfare authorities just yet. He refers to a conversation the day before with Paterno. It's not known what Paterno may have said to Curley.

Curley allegedly writes: "After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps."

The athletic director apparently preferred to keep the situation an internal affair and talk things over with Sandusky instead of notifying the state's child welfare agency.

"I am having trouble with going to everyone, but the person involved," Curley allegedly continues.

Curley writes he'd be "more comfortable" meeting with Sandusky himself and telling him they know about the 2001 incident and, according to a source with knowledge of the case, he refers to another shower incident with a boy in 1998 that was investigated by police but never resulted in charges against Sandusky.

Curley purportedly writes to Spanier, saying he wants to meet with Sandusky, tell him there's "a problem," and that "we want to assist the individual to get professional help."

In the same purported e-mail provided to CNN, Curley goes on to suggest that if Sandusky "is cooperative," Penn State "would work with him" to tell Second Mile. If not, Curley states, the university will inform both Second Mile and outside authorities.

Sandusky's 'make-believe world'

Curley adds that he intends to inform Sandusky that his "guests" won't be allowed to use Penn State facilities anymore.

"What do you think of this approach?" Curley allegedly writes to Spanier.

About two hours later, the Penn State president responds to Curley in another e-mail and copies Schultz. Spanier allegedly calls the plan "acceptable," but worries whether it's the right thing to do, according to two sources.

"The only downside for us is if the message (to Sandusky) isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it," Spanier purportedly writes.

"But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed," he adds.

The next afternoon, Schultz allegedly responds to the Penn State president and its athletic director. Schultz signs off on handling the matter without telling anyone on the outside, at least for the time being.

"This is a more humane and upfront way to handle this,' Schultz purportedly writes. But he makes clear Penn State should inform Sandusky's charity Second Mile "with or without (Sandusky's) cooperation."

As for telling child welfare authorities, he adds, "we can play it by ear."

No one reported the 2001 shower incident to authorities. A decade later, in 2011, a grand jury found no Pennsylvania law enforcement or child welfare agency was ever told.

"It was not only not humane to give Sandusky a pass, but inhumane towards young men who fell prey to him," said attorney Tom Kline, who represents Victim 5. About six months after the February 2001 incident witnessed by McQueary, Victim 5 was molested. On June 22, Sandusky was convicted of having unlawful sexual contact with Victim 5, among 44 other counts involving nine other boys.

Sources say that based on the e-mails and other documents, they could face additional charges. Spanier could also be charged, law enforcement sources and legal experts say.

As part of an ongoing grand jury investigation, state prosecutors are poring over the e-mails turned over by Penn State as part of its own investigation, led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

According to court papers, the government is also examining a Sandusky file left behind by Schultz. In a statement, Schultz's attorney Tom Farrell says Schultz, who retired in 2009, did not keep any "secret" files.

Muralist replaces Sandusky image; Penn State looks to cases ahead

Prosecutors say the file was created, maintained and possessed by Schultz and assert that documents in the file are "inconsistent" with statements made by Schultz and Curley to a grand jury.

One inconsistency may involve Schultz's grand jury testimony stating the state's child welfare agency was notified about the 2001 shower incident. "My recollection would be ... (in 2002) ... that they were asked to look into this allegation," Schultz testified.

(During McQueary's grand jury testimony, the incident was believed to have occurred in 2002. But investigators later determined the incident happened in February 2001.)

He also testified any notes he "probably" took about the 2002 incident may have been destroyed when he retired in 2009.

Curley's grand jury testimony also appears inconsistent with the purported e-mails. In the messages, he refers to "a first situation" in 1998, yet he told a grand jury he wasn't aware of any other allegations of alleged sexual conduct involving Sandusky.

A prosecutor asked Curley: "Specifically, a 1998 report, did you know anything about that in 2002?" Curley responded: "No, ma'am."

Schultz and Curley, through their lawyers, consistently maintain McQueary didn't tell them about a sexual assault in 2001, and instead said McQueary described "inappropriate conduct" or horsing around.

McQueary has repeatedly testified he told Penn State officials he saw a boy with his hands up against a wall with Sandusky behind him and heard slapping, rhythmic sounds. He added that someone wouldn't have to be "a rocket scientist" to figure out what was going on.

A jury acquitted Sandusky of rape involving the 2001 incident, and instead found Sandusky guilty of several other counts involved in that shower incident including unlawful sexual contact.

Spanier's lawyer did not respond to calls from CNN seeking comment for this story.

According to Penn State's board of trustees, Spanier was fired last year because "he failed to meet his leadership responsibilities."

Shortly after his dismissal, Spanier issued a statement that said, in part, "I was stunned and outraged to learn that any predatory act might have occurred in a university facility or by someone associated with the university. ... I would never hesitate to report a crime if I had any suspicion that one had been committed."

In a statement to CNN, lawyers for Schultz and Curley said both men were doing the best they could about a report of "inappropriate conduct" by a man with a stellar reputation.

"As Governor Tom Corbett stated, 'If we were going to do this case, we had to have the best possible case to go against somebody like Mr. Sandusky who was ... loved by everybody. Carried out of the football stadium on the shoulders of his football team. How can anybody say there must be something wrong with him?'" the lawyers' statement read, citing Corbett's remarks in a June 25 article by The Patriot News.

"For Curley, Schultz, Spanier and Paterno, the responsible and 'humane' thing to do was, like Governor Corbett (said), to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague, but troubling allegations. Faced with tough situations, good people try to do their best to make the right decisions."

A spokesman for Paterno's family, who has not seen any e-mails, told CNN Paterno didn't communicate by e-mail and defended the coach.

"Everyone should want the truth ... and Joe always told the truth," Dan McGinn told CNN. "He did the right thing. He told his boss about McQueary."

One thing is clear. There's no evidence Penn State did anything to find the boy involved in the 2001 incident.

The night Sandusky was led away in handcuffs, Penn State issued a statement calling for healing. So did the family of Joe Paterno.

Healing might take time. Everyone is waiting for the results of Freeh's investigation, anticipated by this fall. It's unclear when state investigators will finish their work. The Justice Department is also conducting a probe, as is the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA.

And Penn State is already reaching out to attorneys representing Sandusky's victims.

None of the victims has, as of yet, filed any lawsuit.

Kline, Victim 5's attorney, said he wants to see the results of Penn State's investigation.

"Everything we saw in this trial could have been stopped by Penn State," Kline told CNN.

"This is an American tragedy of monumental proportions."

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