A former FBI director and Pennsylvania State University used then-president Graham B. Spanier as the scapegoat when the school needed someone to take the fall for Jerry Sandusky's years of child molestation, Spanier contends in a suit filed Wednesday.
Spanier's complaint alleged that Louis Freeh defamed him in a 2012 report that asserted that he ignored information that Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, sexually abused children, in some cases on school grounds.
Spanier was "never aware of any child abuse accusations," the long-awaited suit, filed in Centre County, states, adding that he hardly knew Sandusky.
Spanier signaled an intention to sue Freeh nearly two years ago, but Wednesday's complaint offered the first details of his grievances. It also added Penn State as a defendant, contending the school breached a contract by violating a separation agreement.
"I just see this as one more step down the road of more attacks" on Freeh "to divert attention from the fact that an independent investigation by the A.G.'s Office led to a judgment that [Spanier] should be indicted," said Robert Heim, Freeh's attorney.
Spanier was charged in 2012 with perjury and conspiracy, accused of concealing information about Sandusky's child abuse and lying to investigators. He has asserted his innocence. A trial has not been scheduled.
Sandusky was convicted and sentenced to a 60-year term.
The 267-page Freeh Report found that Spanier disregarded "the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims," and "empowered" Sandusky to victimize children at Penn State.
The report, Heim said, "is direct, it's to the point, it sets forth his findings, and it doesn't dance around the issues, which is what Penn State wanted."
Penn State declined to comment, saying it would review Spanier's 140-page complaint.
The complaint portrayed Freeh's conclusions, coordinated with the university, the NCAA, and the Big Ten Conference, as having been preordained. In 2012, Penn State sought to placate an NCAA threatening to shut down the football program, the suit alleges, by placing blame. The university turned to Freeh, who used his reputation as a former federal judge and FBI director to give his report the weight of an impartial court opinion, the lawsuit alleged.
But Freeh's firm, according to the suit, was paid $8 million by the school, and issued reports "custom-tailored with preconceived story lines to meet his clients' objectives." Clients paid millions "to identify one or more 'wrongdoers' (never Freeh's clients)" to blame, and then "declare the scandal resolved."
"Freeh's work has been called into question repeatedly," Spanier alleges, citing both reversals and criticisms of Freeh investigations by the international soccer organization FIFA, a federal court reviewing a Freeh shareholder investigation for Wynn Resorts Ltd., and another federal court reviewing his report on fraud claims connected to the BP oil spill in Louisiana.
"Dr. Spanier was never aware of any child-abuse accusations," the suit states, "and therefore he never could have concealed such allegations."
Freeh made the defamation worse by expanding the allegations against Spanier, the late football coach Joe Paterno, and other Penn State officials on TV and through news releases, the suit contends.
Spanier holds Freeh responsible for costing him work and, ultimately, getting him criminally charged. In 2012, before the Freeh Report was released, Spanier had a contract to do classified work for American intelligence. He lost that job after Freeh learned of it and "notified federal prosecutors," the suit says, even though a federal investigation had cleared him to keep his security clearance. It also argues that Spanier would have not been charged criminally if not for the report and the public pressure it created.
The state Attorney General's Office declined to comment. A news release issued when Spanier was charged made no mention of the Freeh Report.
Spanier also accused Penn State of violating his 2011 separation agreement. Spanier voluntarily stepped down from the top job, the suit claims, and Penn State agreed to provide him with an office, office staff, expenses, and legal fees and to not make any "negative comments" about him.
Instead, Spanier says, Penn State barred him from his office, publicized negative statements about him, and allowed trustees to make negative comments about him.
Spanier wants an undefined monetary award for harm to his reputation and lost income, and punitive damages against Freeh for defaming him "in furtherance of a highly lucrative business model."
Spanier is only one of several key players in the Sandusky scandal pursuing legal action. Paterno's family is suing the NCAA and two of its top officers. Former assistant coaches Jay Paterno, the head coach's son, and William Kenney, along with a member of the board of trustees, are participating in that suit.
Jay Paterno and Kenney have a separate suit against the university. Mike McQueary, the former assistant coach who testified that he saw Sandusky raping a young boy, is also suing the university, saying he was penalized as a whistle-blower. One of Sandusky's victims is pursuing legal action against the school.
In an interview Wednesday, Jay Paterno said growing criticism of the Freeh Report helps to vindicate his father's reputation: "In July 2012, the Freeh Report was accepted as fact, and now we know better."