Seven months before Jerry Sandusky's arrest, investigators believed they were on the verge of a bigger bombshell: that top officials at Pennsylvania State University had for years protected a serial sex abuser who assaulted young boys on campus.

In a closed-door meeting, Deputy Attorney General Frank G. Fina asked a judge to let them get years of e-mails from officials, including coach Joe Paterno and President Graham B. Spanier.

"It appears possible that quite a number of people at Penn State University either knew or suspected something untoward was happening," Fina said.

A transcript from the April 2011 meeting, one of several documents unsealed Wednesday, offers a previously unreported window into the case as it was still evolving. Investigators had identified at least four young men who claimed they were sexually abused by Sandusky, but wanted to dig deeper.

Fina's comments to Judge Barry Feudale came during a meeting in the judge's chambers to discuss prosecutors' request for access to Penn State e-mails. Feudale, a Common Pleas judge who had been supervising the secret grand jury investigation, approved the request.

By that time, former vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley had already testified before the grand jury. But the prosecutor told the judge he saw inconsistencies in their accounts.

When asked about claims by graduate assistant Mike McQueary that he had witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a campus shower in 2001, Schultz and Curley had testified they were told the incident amounted to "horseplay" and was not sexual.

Fina noted that McQueary went to Paterno's home early on the morning - a Saturday - after he witnessed the incident and that both Schultz and Curley had discussed the situation with the university president.

Fina told the judge that Schultz and Curley had "obvious credibility issues," and wondered "why would Coach Paterno and McQueary have been making these contacts on a weekend over something as minor as a man horseplaying in the shower with a boy with absolutely no sexual connotations."

The three men later decided that Sandusky would be asked not to bring minors to the school campus anymore, and Curley spoke with the head of Sandusky's charity for underprivileged children, Fina said.

The prosecutor thought their e-mails could be critical evidence.

"We think e-mails where people often write candid things, they write offhand comments, they write masked comments and metaphors, may prove very worthwhile to us to review," Fina told the judge, according to the transcript.

It would be a year before a team of investigators led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh uncovered those e-mails, which have since become key pieces of evidence in the case.

They indicate that Schultz and Curley discussed a 1998 allegation against Sandusky, as well as the 2001 shower incident. Spanier was looped into at least two discussions about the 1998 report but apparently did not respond, the records show.

McQueary has testified that he witnessed a sexual incident and made it clear to Paterno, Curley and Schultz.

E-mails among Curley, Schultz, and Spanier about the incident don't describe it as a sexual attack, but indicate they had considered reporting it to authorities but did not.

Instead, they decided to approach Sandusky about the incident, rather than go to outside authorities - which Spanier called "a humane and reasonable way to proceed."

The three former administrators face charges of perjury, conspiracy, and endangering the welfare of children. Prosecutors have alleged that they orchestrated a "conspiracy of silence" that allowed Sandusky to continue abusing children despite reports of his misconduct.

Attorneys for all three have disputed the allegations.

There is no trial date set for the case, which has been delayed by pretrial motions, including a fight over testimony from the university's former general counsel, Cynthia Baldwin.

Baldwin initially represented the three defendants as they testified in the Sandusky probe, but later became a cooperating witness for the state and testified against them. Defense attorneys say she violated attorney-client privilege and have asked a judge to throw out her testimony and dismiss charges.

Judge Todd A. Hoover has taken matters related to Baldwin under advisement, said Spanier's attorney, Elizabeth Ainslie.

"We're waiting for a ruling at this point," she said.

Sandusky, convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys he met through the charity he founded, is serving a 30 to 60 year prison sentence.