Penn State's New Villain

By Bissinger, Buzz | Newsweek, November 28, 2011 | Go to article overview

Penn State's New Villain


Bissinger, Buzz, Newsweek


Byline: Buzz Bissinger; Buzz Bissinger Is The Sports Columnist For The Daily Beast And A Contributing Editor At Vanity Fair.

The investigation of Jerry Sandusky began when Tom Corbett, the Pennsylvania governor, was attorney general. What took so long?

LIKE AN UNCHECKED oil spill with no effective cleanup plan in sight, the black ooze flowing from the tragedy and travesty of the Penn State scandal keeps spreading, covering even those who--because of mad-dash coverage, in particular by The New York Times--were originally hailed as instant heroes.

A week after a state grand jury reported dozens of horrific acts of sexual abuse against minors by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the only man who stood tall was Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

The investigation started in 2009 on Corbett's watch, when he was state attorney general, and the release of the 40-count indictment against Sandusky occurred with Corbett in the governor's mansion.

It was hard not to admire him, although Jo Becker went a little far in her shameless puff piece in the Times on Nov. 10. He had taken on a case of such enormous ramifications, ripping open the state's most sacrosanct institution and its most powerful man, football coach Joe Paterno. The great JoePa, who did nothing to stop Sandusky's alleged depravity but kick it upstairs to superiors when everyone knew Paterno had no superiors, was fired. Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State, was out as well.

That made Corbett appear even taller.

Except for the fact that the way his office handled the investigation raises inevitable and legitimate questions about why an alleged sexual predator was allowed to remain at large for nearly three years while the grand jury investigated. The question of political considerations cannot be avoided.

Not only that, but Corbett's gubernatorial staff approved--yes, approved--a $3 million grant to Second Mile, the foundation for kids that, according to the grand jury, served as a repository for potential sex-abuse victims. Corbett knew about the grant and let it through last July for reasons that seem absurd.

Kathleen Kane, who is running for attorney general, is a Democrat, while Corbett is a Republican. But Kane was also an assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County who specialized in cases of sexual abuse for 12 years. She told me that in any case where authorities know of an alleged sexual predator believed to have committed a crime, the first obligation is to make an arrest. The risk of Sandusky committing another act against a minor child was too great to wait three years for a report, she said emphatically.

Corbett brushed off any criticism last week as being misinformed. "The investigation moved as quickly as it could," he told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "If, during the time that I was in office, we could have been in a position to make an arrest, we would have made an arrest."

I am not a lawyer, but I have spoken to former prosecutors who have dealt with sexual abuse, including rape, and they don't buy Corbett's line for a second. "You don't need a grand-jury report," said one. "If there is an alleged sexual predator on the streets known to you, you get him off the streets." After an arrest, the former prosecutor said, there is nothing to preclude investigators from finding more alleged victims. In fact, victims might have been more comfortable coming forward knowing that the alleged perpetrator had been arrested. And the actions of Penn State officials still could have been probed.

The strongest case allegedly occurred in 2008, and, according to the grand jury, involved Sandusky performing oral sex on the alleged victim more than 20 times when he was 13 or 14--when Sandusky was in his early 60s. The case is what led Corbett when he was attorney general to commence an investigation into Sandusky in 2009.

Authorities in this case know the victim.

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