Attorney finds missteps in former FBI Director Freeh’s Penn State report
True-blue believers fighting for Joe Paterno’s legacy at Penn State University might have a new hero for their cause.
Attorney Michael L. Bangs challenged a landmark report that says the late football coach and three school executives failed to protect children from pedophile Jerry Sandusky. The 267-page review by former FBI Director Louis Freeh in July 2012 became a trusted guide to the Sandusky scandal, helping drive public opinion and sanctions that the NCAA imposed on the school.
Bangs questions every page, he wrote in a legal opinion on Sandusky’s pension, released on June 19. He found the Freeh report overstated by 65 payments the number of times the university compensated Sandusky from 2000 to 2008. Penn State made six payments, wrote Bangs, who is based in Camp Hill.
The “use of this remarkably incorrect statistic by the Freeh report, which was then relied upon to form the basis for a number of its other conclusions, calls into question the accuracy and veracity of the entire report,” Bangs wrote.
Freeh’s law firm did not respond to a Tribune-Review inquiry.
Bangs, a state hearing examiner, would not talk about his report, which included a recommendation encouraging the state retirement system to restore a $4,900 monthly pension for Sandusky, 70, a former assistant football coach convicted of abusing 10 boys. State officials have yet to rule on the pension.
Though some observers maintain a numerical error should not discredit the Freeh report, longtime skeptics said Bangs’ criticism follows growing doubts about the $6.5 million Freeh investigation commissioned by the university board.
“I don’t know how you get that wrong,” said Ryan Bagwell of Madison, Wis., a 2002 Penn State graduate and former candidate for the university board of trustees. He said Freeh “needs to explain some of these conclusions that don’t make much sense.”
A Penn State spokesman, board leaders and the NCAA declined to comment.
Former university trustee David R. Jones said the Freeh report proved useful.
“When the (Freeh) report came out, I had some dispute with some of the points here and there. But I thought it was a fundamentally sound report that made a lot of sound recommendations, most of which have been implemented by the university,” said Jones of Montclair, N.J., a 1954 graduate who left the board in June 2012.
Trustee Barbara Doran of New York said the board should revisit Freeh’s conclusions and discuss how to address them in public.
“I think any time you find a misstatement of fact that is so far off the mark, it does make you question the credibility of the entire report,” said Doran, a 1975 Penn State graduate who joined the board in 2013.
Among critics of the Freeh report are Paterno’s relatives and supporters, former Penn State President Graham Spanier and the activist group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. The Paternos last year released a rebuttal to the Freeh report, with backing from former governor and U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.
“When you look at this, you ask yourself: What is the tangible, physical evidence Joe Paterno did something wrong?” said Paterno’s son Scott, 41, of Hershey.
The family and supporters are suing the NCAA in an attempt to reverse the sanctions, including a $60 million fine against Penn State and the erasure of 111 football victories under Joe Paterno.
Commonwealth Court ruled in April that the NCAA might have overreached in ordering the discipline. The athletics association used the Freeh report as a basis.
Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley are awaiting trial on charges that they covered up Sandusky’s abuse.
Spanier is suing Freeh for defamation. The former president was dismissed after Sandusky’s arrest in November 2011.
Joe Paterno died on Jan. 22, 2012. He was not charged.
The former executives should not expect apparent missteps in the Freeh report to help their legal cause, said John Burkoff, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who is not connected with the case. He said the report has no standing in court. Freeh had no subpoena power.
“Other than the spin that people would like to put on it, there’s really no significance to the report” in the pending trials, Burkoff said.
Bangs’ criticism could help to shape the thinking of would-be jurors, said Wes Oliver, criminal justice program director at Duquesne University. He called that impact “minimal to non-existent” for the criminal cases.
A numerical mistake in the Freeh report won’t help Sandusky, either, Burkoff said. Sandusky is serving as many as 60 years at the state prison in Waynesburg.
“From his point of view, this is only entertainment,” Burkoff said.