PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials hushed up child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago for fear of bad publicity, allowing the former assistant football coach to prey on other youngsters, according to a scathing internal report issued Thursday on the scandal.
"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," said former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was hired by university trustees to look into what has become one of sports' biggest scandals. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."
After an eight-month inquiry, Freeh's firm produced a 267-page report that concluded that the Hall of Fame coach, President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse."
Paterno "was an integral part of this active decision to conceal," Freeh said at a news conference. He called the officials' disregard for child victims "callous and shocking."
School leaders "empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access" to campus and to affiliate with the football program, the report said. The access, the report states, "provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims."
Freeh said officials had opportunities in 1998 and 2001 to step in.
Sexual abuse might have been prevented if university officials had banned Sandusky from bringing children onto campus after a 1998 inquiry, the report said. Despite their knowledge of the police probe into Sandusky showering with a boy in a football locker room, Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz took no action to limit his access to campus, the report said.
The May 1998 complaint by a woman whose son came home with wet hair after showering with Sandusky didn't result in charges at the time. The report says Schultz was worried the matter could be opening "Pandora's box."
Then, in 2001, after a member of Paterno's staff saw Sandusky in a campus shower with a boy, officials did bar him from bringing children to campus and decided not to report him to child welfare authorities.
"There's more red flags here than you could count over a long period of time," Freeh said.
Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of 45 criminal counts for abusing 10 boys. The scandal led to the ouster of Paterno and Spanier. Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on charges accusing them of lying to a grand jury and failing to report abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.
Asked whether the officials' actions amounted to a crime such as conspiracy or obstruction, Freeh said that would be up to a grand jury.
In a statement, Paterno's family said the longtime coach made mistakes that he acknowledged but "never interfered with any investigation" and was fooled by Sandusky.
"The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept. The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn't fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events," the statement said. "If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions."
Trustee Anthony Lubrano, a critic of the board's dismissal of Paterno in November, said the board was still formulating a response.
Freeh also said Sandusky's conduct was in part a result of the school's lack of transparency, which stemmed from a "failure of governance" on the part of officials and the board of trustees. He said the collective inaction and mindset at the top of the university trickled all the way down to a school janitor who was afraid for his job and opted to not report seeing sex abuse in a school locker room in 2000.
The report also singled out the revered Penn State football program -- one built on the motto "success with honor" -- for criticism. It says Paterno and university leaders allowed Sandusky to retire in 1999, "not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy, with future `visibility' at Penn State'," allowing him to groom victims.
Investigators, however, found no evidence linking his $168,000 retirement package to the 1998 police investigation. Freeh called the payout unprecedented but said there was no evidence it was an attempt to buy Sandusky's silence.
Sandusky's trial last month included gut-wrenching testimony from eight young men who said he abused them as boys, sometimes on campus, and