Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of counts Spanier was charged with. This version has been corrected.
Graham B. Spanier, the former president of Penn State University who lost his job amid the school’s infamous football sex-abuse scandal, has been criminally charged with covering up reports that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had abused young boys on campus.
Pennsylvania’s attorney general said Thursday that a grand jury had found evidence that Spanier was part of a “conspiracy of silence” to cover up abuse in Happy Valley, making him the highest-ranking university official to be charged with a crime in connection with Sandusky’s actions.
“This was not a mistake by these men, this was not an oversight,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “This was a conspiracy of silence by top officials to actively conceal the truth.”
The eight charges include perjury, endangering the welfare of children, obstruction of an investigation, failure to report child abuse and criminal conspiracy. Sandusky was convicted of child sex abuse in June and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Spanier was forced to resign the presidency days after Sandusky was arrested.
In the past year, Spanier has gone from one of the most well-known and well-paid college presidents in the country to being accused of felonies in a conspiracy to put the university’s image and revered football program ahead of the safety of children.
Spanier’s attorneys said in a statement that there is “no factual basis to support these charges,” and, referring to Gov. Tom Corbett (R), said they are the “work of a vindictive and politically motivated Governor working through an un-elected attorney general.” They said Spanier looks forward to the “opportunity to clear his good name and well-earned national reputation for integrity.”
The news conference’s stage featured a poster headlined with the words “Conspiracy of Silence” and with photos of Spanier and two of his top deputies, both of whom have also been charged criminally in the case.
Spanier is accused of knowing about two reported cases of possible abuse by Sandusky.
In May 1998, a mother reported to police that Sandusky had inappropriately touched her 11-year-old son in a Penn State locker-room shower. In February 2001, an assistant coach said that he saw what he believed was Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in a locker-room shower.
Spanier has said that he does not remember being informed of the 1998 incident and that the 2001 incident was described as being only “horseplay.”
Kelly would not speculate on whether the late Joe Paterno, Penn State’s legendary football coach, would have been charged if he were still alive.
“Mr. Paterno is deceased,” Kelly said in answering the first question posed by a reporter. “He is deceased, and that is the end of it.”
Penn State, meanwhile, placed Spanier on leave Thursday. The ex-president had been allowed to keep a tenured professorship and take a sabbatical. His attorneys have said that Spanier works in some way for the federal government.
The other two officials — Timothy M. Curley, who is on leave from being athletic director, and Gary C. Schultz, a former vice president who retired last year — were charged nearly a year ago with perjury and failure to report child abuse. Both men now face additional charges, including criminal conspiracy, Kelly said. Both have maintained their innocence.
Kelly said that these three officials did not do enough to stop Sandusky, allowing him to continue to abuse young boys. Spanier’s attorneys turn that sentiment around and ask why state officials spent nearly three years investigating Sandusky when he should have been more quickly “warned, stopped or indicted.”
When a grand jury began to investigate Sandusky, Kelly said, Penn State officials were not forthcoming with information, stalling the investigation. When Spanier was no longer president, she said, information suddenly flowed more freely from Penn State.
The grand jury presentation included documents from a file on Sandusky that Schultz allegedly kept in his office and e-mails exchanged among some or all of the three officials following each incident.
During the news conference, Kelly said that investigators also discovered that a law firm had charged the university in February 2001 for 2.9 hours of work advising Schultz about possible child abuse.
Sandusky, who has maintained his innocence, has been transferred to a maximum-security prison in southwestern Pennsylvania that is home to most of the state’s death-row inmates.
Curley and Schultz are scheduled to go on trial in January. Kelly said it would make sense for all three former officials to stand trial together. Penn State said in a statement that Curley was recently given notice that his contract will not be renewed when it expires on June 30, 2013.
The legacy of Sandusky’s abuse has also left its mark on Paterno’s football legacy. A statue of Paterno was removed from outside Penn State’s football stadium and the NCAA vacated more than 100 games that Paterno’s teams won, dropping him out of the top 10 for all-time college coaching victories. Penn State’s football team — currently 5-3 on the season — is banned from postseason play and faces other sanctions.