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The Lynne Abraham probe that wasn't

Lynne Abraham talked big when she started probing charity founded by Penn State pedophile Jerry Sandusky. Why did the matter vanish?

Lynne Abraham, former Philly D.A. and a candidate for mayor; former Penn State coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky. (File photos)
Lynne Abraham, former Philly D.A. and a candidate for mayor; former Penn State coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky. (File photos)Read more

SINCE THE end of her long tenure as Philadelphia District Attorney five years ago, Lynne Abraham - now a 2015 mayoral contender - only made the news for one really high-profile case. It was supposed to be a doozy.

At the height of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex-abuse scandal in November 2011, the ex-top prosecutor and judge announced she'd been hired by the Sandusky-founded children's charity, the Second Mile. Her job was to get to the bottom of whether officials at the philanthropy knew about or even aided the crimes of the former Penn State coach.

"We will be looking into who knew," Abraham told the Inquirer a few days later. "What did they know? When did they know it? And what did they do? Sandusky certainly let this happen. Some people were aware. Who were they, and why didn't they act in an appropriate fashion by informing the police?"

The former D.A. promised to turn over anything she learned to the state Attorney General's Office, which had prosecuted the college football icon.

Then . . . nothing.

With considerably less fanfare, Abraham ended her work for the Second Mile less than a year later in 2012, saying that the now-devastated state of the charity - which was shutting down operations and transferring its major assets to a Texas-based philanthropy - had rendered the need for a full-blown investigation moot.

The 73-year-old Abraham's brief tie to the Sandusky case was her last foray into the public arena - and it turned out there was a lot more bark to the Second Mile probe than bite.

Will it be an issue for the self-proclaimed (according to her internal polling) mayoral front-runner?

Abraham, speaking through campaign spokesman Eleanor Dezzi, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation against the Second Mile that her Philadelphia law firm is still handling.

But one of Abraham's law partners, Howard Rosenthal, who was authorized to speak for the Second Mile by its current president as the charity continues to wind down, conceded that Abraham had largely withdrawn from the matter within weeks after her role was announced - after the Second Mile's directors realized, upon Sandusky's late 2011 indictment, that a youth program founded by a pedophile had no future.

Rosenthal said no formal report seemed necessary and that other lawyers at Archer & Greiner - him, primarily - are now handling the remaining lawsuits against the Second Mile. He said Abraham's involvement "was very limited."

Still, the ongoing lack of clarity over the Second Mile's role in a scandal that sent Sandusky to prison for 30 to 60 years, after his conviction on 45 child-sex-abuse charges, has frustrated activists who'd been hoping for a thorough investigation from Abraham, who as D.A. bragged of the nickname "One Tough Cookie."

"There are a lot of unanswered questions over the Second Mile," said Ray Blehar, a systems analyst and Penn State master's of business recipient.

Blehar has intensely studied and written about the Sandusky case, which also led to major NCAA sanctions, recently lifted, against the college football program. He said he'd hoped that an Abraham investigation would show whether officials at the charity - which ran programs for at-risk boys including summer camps, leadership seminars and mentoring - had known about earlier probes into Sandusky's contacts with young boys going back to the 1990s.

Sandusky's long run at Penn State, where he worked closely with legendary coach Joe Paterno as he rose to defensive coordinator, helped to attract big-name business execs to the charity's board of directors as well as millions of dollars in donations. But prosecutors later alleged that the program, named after a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, became the place where he met most if not all of his young victims.

Attorney Rosenthal said that while the Second Mile didn't conduct the once-planned formal probe, it has aggressively cooperated with law enforcement agencies that have looked into the Sandusky case.

Blehar, the citizen activist on the Penn State issue, said rigid state child-welfare laws should have prevented interaction between Sandusky and the kids who participated in the charitable program once program executives learned that the coach was under suspicion.

Marci Hamilton, a professor at New York's Cardozo School of Law and an advocate for sex-abuse victims, also expressed disappointment at the lack of focused probe into the Second Mile. She said such an investigation could help develop strategies to prevent future pedophiles from using nonprofits like the one that Sandusky founded to meet and groom young victims.

At the same time, Hamilton questioned whether Abraham, hired by the charity's board, would have been the right person to conduct a truly impartial examination - saying an outside, independent investigator would have been preferable.

"There's a difference between being the D.A. and being in a law firm," Hamilton said. "As D.A., she's representing and serving the public, but a law firm serves only the client."

Although there is simmering resentment over the Sandusky case and related issues - including Penn State's firing of Paterno months before his death from cancer - local political observer Larry Ceisler doubted that Abraham's inability to follow through on her promised probe will hurt her mayoral bid. Other issues - including Abraham's aggressive past support for the death penalty - will resonate more with city voters, he said.

Added Ceisler; "I don't even think Penn State ties are that strong an issue for Philadelphia mayoral voters."