Joe Paterno in 2010

Joe Paterno at a rally for the Outback Bowl in 2010.

Frances Sonne / Flickr

Penn State bombshell: Joe Paterno knew about Sandusky abuse in 1976, victim claims

The shocking allegation is buried in a judge’s opinion concerning $60 million in insurance payments to accusers who said Sandusky molested them decades ago.

Joe Paterno knew Jerry Sandusky abused at least one child as early as 1976, according to a detail in a new court filing.

At the time, Paterno had been Penn State’s head football coach for 10 years; Sandusky was still an assistant coach. A year later, Sandusky would begin his charity, The Second Mile, which officials claim he started in order to groom prospective victims.

The shocking allegation is buried in a judge’s opinion concerning $60 million in insurance payments to accusers who said Jerry Sandusky, convicted in 2012 of sexual abuse of children, molested them decades ago.

It’s a bombshell revelation that appears to disprove claims that Paterno wasn’t aware Sandusky had abused children over the course of decades. Prosecutors in related cases allege the first time Paterno was made aware of sexual abuse was in 2001 — and his supporters say that even that circumstance is fuzzy.

But the court order shows that in addition to a child saying he approached Paterno in 1976, there were also apparently two other times in the 1980s when assistant coaches had witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and children, and a 1988 case was referred to then-Athletic Director Jim Tarman. The allegations were not reported further up the chain of command, according to the court order.

Paterno’s family released a statement Thursday night saying they are “demanding a full public review of the facts.”

“We challenge anyone with evidence of misconduct to come forward and present their allegations in a process that allows a full, fair review of the evidence,” the statement read. “We will stand by the facts, but we will never accept veiled accusations presented in a context where they cannot be objectively reviewed and analyzed.”

Why this wasn’t public before

Sandusky was convicted less than a year after he was originally charged with abusing 10 boys over the course of a decade and it’s been years since three Penn State administrators were charged with allegedly covering up that abuse.

These claims by alleged victims hadn’t been made public until now because they came from sealed depositions in civil suits filed against the university. The state school has been in an ongoing legal battle with its insurance company over whether or not it should reimburse the school for costs related to paying out victims who had sued Penn State.

The insurance company, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association Insurance Co., claimed it didn’t have to cover the $60 million in liability, saying unnamed officials at Penn State knew about the abuse for years or even decades prior to authorities knowing about it, and no one at Penn State notified the insurance company of increased risk.

The case is based in Philadelphia and the civil suit was filed in 2013. This week, Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer ruled mostly in favor of the insurance company and referenced the 1976, 1987 and 1988 allegations, which were not aired in Sandusky’s criminal case.

None of those allegations have been in the public record until now and have not been aired in a court of law, but the university did already pay out the alleged victims who made those claims. Most alleged victims who came forward and sued the university settled, but not all.

What it means for Joe Paterno

The back-and-forth over what Paterno knew and when he knew it has been brewing since 2011 when charges were filed against Sandusky and two Penn State administrators said to have been told of an allegation of abuse by former graduate assistant Mike McQueary.

Paterno’s family and his many supporters have contended the former head coach did nothing wrong — he reported an allegation of abuse to his superior, then-Athletic Director Tim Curley — and assumed the issue had been resolved.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh came to a different conclusion. In a scathing report bearing his name, Freeh not only implicated the Curley, former senior Vice President Gary Schultz and former Penn State President Graham Spanier, but also alleged Paterno had checked in with his superiors on Sandusky’s status at Penn State. Both Freeh and state prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General came to the conclusion in 2012 that none of the men went to police and instead told Sandusky he could no longer bring boys in the Penn State locker room where the incident occurred.

After the Freeh Report dropped in the summer of 2012, the NCAA levied its unprecedented sanctions against Penn State — a bowl ban, a scholarship reduction, a $60 million fine and a vacation of more than 100 of Paterno’s wins — though those sanctions were later rolled back after the NCAA was forced on the defensive over the heavy sanctions.

But it’s unclear if Freeh or the NCAA was aware of these allegations when they levied the sanctions or when they rolled them back.

And now come questions over Paterno’s legacy. He’s still supported by huge groups of Penn Staters and calls have come down to reinstate the statue outside Beaver Stadium that Penn State tore down in wake of the scandal.

What it means for the charged administrators

This blow to the reputation of the men allegedly involved in the Sandusky scandal comes after Curley, Schultz and Spanier recently got good news in their still pending criminal cases.

Both Curley and Schultz were charged with perjury and failure to report suspected abuse, but charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and child endangerment were later added to their dockets following the release of the Freeh Report that uncovered a trove of emails allegedly connecting the men to knowledge of abuse. At the same time, Spanier was also charged.

But some of those charges were recently dropped by a judge overseeing the years-long case and, this week, the Office of the Attorney General announced last week it would not be pursuing the re-filing of those charges.

In March, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld an earlier ruling that quashed charges the perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges against Schultz and Spanier and the conspiracy and obstruction charges were dropped against Curley. Last week, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said her office wouldn’t appeal that decision.

The only one of the four men implicated in the scandal that was working in their position at the school in 1976 was Paterno.

Spanier was a professor at Penn State in 1973 but left the university in 1982 and returned to Penn State to serve as president in 1995. Curley became the athletic director in 1993 and Schultz is a Penn State graduate who worked at the university for 40 years and served as a vice president beginning in 1995.

Schultz, Spanier and Curley each still face misdemeanor charges of failure to report suspected abuse and child endangerment, while Curley is also charged with perjury.

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