By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) An attention-grabbing trial filled with grim, hideous details, sobbing witnesses and crackling verbal exchanges can provide good cover.
Let eyes and ears be turned elsewhere, hanging on every word of the Jerry Sandusky child-rape testimony, poring through transcripts and digesting legal analysis, some are thinking. Perhaps fewer will be likely to note what else is going on involving Penn State officials and the estate of its dead football coach.
As the proceedings convened Monday morning, NBC News reported that the university had found new evidence of just how much was known about Sandusky being seen raping a boy in the football-office shower in 2001, and how carefully and deliberately it was covered up by school officials. Emails between then-president Graham Spanier and VP Gary Schultz discussed that it would be “humane” to shield Sandusky from authorities, after the school did legal research on what crimes may have been committed.
Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley are each facing trial for perjury, on charges of lying to the grand jury last November. Now Spanier may also be charged.
NBC was told that the emails were “recently discovered” as part of the school’s internal investigation. Curious, then, that news of the discovery coincided with reporters and cameras clustered down the road in buzzing Bellefonte.
Later in the day, more supposedly-new information came to light. The state attorney general’s office announced that it had obtained the secret file Schultz had kept on Sandusky containing documents that directly contradict his sworn testimony, months after subpoenas had been issued for such things. It all just happened to turn up.
Also coincidental with the start of the trial was the quiet news Sunday that Joe Paterno’s will had been ordered permanently sealed from public view by a still-unidentified judge. The Wilkes-Barre Citizen’s Voice reported that a family attorney made the request in April when the will entered probate, and the judge obliged. There are five judges in the county, and calls from the Associated Press to the president judge overseeing the county court system were not returned.
Paterno had spent years cultivating an image as a middle-class everyman, all while lining his pockets with millions of dollars via side-businesses, many intertwined with officials at the Second Mile – the charity set up by Sandusky for the purpose of farming sex-abuse victims.
Indeed, as detailed in December in this must-read investigation by The Daily, Paterno and three partners had just secured financing to build a $125 million luxury retirement community on Penn State property when assistant coach Mike McQueary alerted Paterno to Sandusky.
One of the investors was Robert Poole, board chairman of the Second Mile.
Because of the location, a nonprofit was created to act as owner and operator, according to the report. The president was former Second Mile board member Peter Weiler, and the treasurer was Gary Schultz. The initial idea for the project came from none other than Graham Spanier.
Per the story, “Paterno also was partners with this team on developing a golf resort and nearby restaurant and inn. He has also partnered with other current and former Second Mile board members on a bottled water company, a coaching website and a chain of convenience stores.”
While the real estate project fizzled – despite the approval of $56 million in public bond financing – the water business, Aqua Penn, was sold to a French company in 1998 for $112 million.
That’s why the will is sealed, and this is only what we know about. Paterno had decades to build vast wealth, thanks to businesses created with the help of those tending Sandusky’s playground. (A diagram showing some of the complex relationships between Paterno, the Second Mile and school officials can be seen here.)
Even after Paterno, Spanier, Schultz, Curley, the Second Mile board and others had an eyewitness account of Sandusky raping a child, too much was invested to allow him to bring it all down.
Too much invested in the football program’s vast control over a state, too much invested in the spider-web of connected businesses bringing in dollars.
We also learned yesterday that the state trooper investigating Victim 1 thought there was enough evidence to charge Sandusky with assault. The attorney general at the time, Tom Corbett, disagreed. He instead assigned a lone policeman to work on the investigation for 18 months, while Corbett ran for governor. After he was elected, more were put on the case and more accusers were found.
Too much invested.
Money, power, control. A sprawling system from the grass of the gridiron to the governor’s mansion, all endangered by a lone predator who was beatified because of a football team. Too big to fail, even when it was clear that more children would be endangered, more lives ruined.
That’s why Penn State University chose to be “humane.”
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.