Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Penn State denies NCAA emails influenced Freeh report

Louis Freeh addresses the media in July 2012 in Scranton after releasing the findings of his investigation into the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Louis Freeh addresses the media in July 2012 in Scranton after releasing the findings of his investigation into the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. CDT file photo

State Sen. Jake Corman’s latest filing in his legal battle with the NCAA and Penn State includes 110 pages of documents.

The majority of them are emails, many a round robin of communications between the college sports organization and Freeh Group investigator Omar McNeill, with input from the university and the Big Ten Conference.

The emails show a close involvement with the Freeh Group from the earliest days of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s commission by Penn State to find out what happened with the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, shortly after Sandusky’s 2011 arrest.

In a Nov. 17, 2011, letter to Penn State, not a part of the latest Corman exhibits, NCAA President Mark Emmert told university President Rodney Erickson that the NCAA would investigate the “actions and inactions of relevant personnel.”

Ultimately, however, that separate investigation didn’t happen. The NCAA handed down its historic penalties against Penn State based on the Freeh report, the investigation with a final price tag of more than $8.1 million.

University sources say similar plans for review from the Big Ten also were scrapped as the conference also levied its fines and punishments after the Freeh report’s release.

The email exhibits seem to paint a trail from event to event.

On Christmas Eve 2011, McNeill set up a phone call with NCAA chief legal counsel Donald Remy and Big Ten attorney Jonathan Barrett as part of a “PSU Weekly Update” from 2-3 p.m. every Friday. Fourteen such calls were scheduled between December 2011 and May 2012.

There were questions from Remy to McNeill, a five-page list of 32 questions to ask in the investigation, including things specific to the Sandusky scandal and others more broadly inquisitive of the overall atmosphere, such as, “What is the difference between the university culture and the athletics department culture?”

There were emails from Remy asking McNeill to help with scheduling a meeting between Freeh and Emmert.

Penn State insists that all of this is taken out of context.

“The (u)niversity’s preliminary review of the NCAA’s proposed questions suggests that there are many proposed questions that are not addressed in the final July 12, 2012 report,” Penn State spokesman David La Torre wrote in an email Wednesday. He vehemently denied any impropriety with the report or the investigation.

According to the engagement agreement with Freeh, the investigators were “under the sole direction of the (special investigations) task force in performing the services hereunder.”

The agreement also stated that the Freeh investigation would “be completed in parallel to, but independent of, any other investigation that is conducted by any policy agencies, governmental authorities or agencies, or other organizations within or outside of ... PSU and will not interfere with any such other investigations.”

The Freeh report itself states that the investigative plan was developed in cooperation with university personnel, local community members and law enforcement; government and nonprofit agencies; and athletic program governing bodies, although neither the NCAA nor the Big Ten is specifically mentioned in the scope of review and methodology section.

“No party interfered with, or attempted to influence, the findings in this report. The Special Investigative Counsel revealed this report and the findings herein to the Board of Trustees and the general public at the same time. No advance copy was provided to the board or to any other person ...,” the Freeh report stated.

Remy also was upfront about his participation in documents filed Monday by the NCAA in Commonwealth Court.

“I received periodic status updates from Judge Freeh’s staff on the progress of the investigation,” he said in a declaration, clarifying that the inquiry was “completely and entirely independent from the NCAA” and “did not include any information regarding the substance of their investigation.”

This was not the first time the defendants in Corman’s suit have said the recent flood of hundreds of pages of documents have been cherry-picked for effect.

“Debate and thorough consideration is central in any organization, and that clearly is reflected in the selectively released emails. The national office staff routinely provides information and counsel to the membership on tough issues,” the NCAA said in a Nov. 5 statement posted to its website. “The NCAA carefully examined its authority and responsibility to act in response to the athletics department’s role detailed in the Freeh report.”

That denial came after a flurry of emails that quoted NCAA officials discussing bluffing to get Penn State to accept the sanctions.

The information is being met with a variety of responses from Penn State supporters and alumni quarters. Some express surprise, others vindication.

“The Penn State community and the wider general public were led to believe that Louis Freeh was hired to provide an objective, independent assessment of how a pedophile could have gone undetected so long; and to learn how to prevent it from ever happening again. Sadly, with today’s news, we have learned that the real objective was to place the blame on Penn State football so that the NCAA could hand down harsh sanctions and thereby prop up its faltering image,” said a statement from Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. “In doing so, Louis Freeh obscured the lessons that should have been learned from this tragedy and did a terrible disservice to children everywhere.”

Corman isn’t satisfied with the information released. He wants the rest of the discovery in the case. His attorneys have asked Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey to rule on the privilege argument the NCAA has put forward for 477 additional disputed documents.

“It gives the appearance of a coordinated effort with a predetermined outcome,” he said of the communications in advance of the Freeh report, adding that he found the NCAA’s privilege argument regarding the documents “extremely telling.”

Corman said there have been no real offers from the NCAA to settle the case, although there “are always discussions.” They are not, however, something he has entertained so far.

“I’m interested in learning the truth,” he said.

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