Following Tom Corbett‘s election as governor in November 2010, more troubling writing soon emerged on the wall. In this case, the electronic wall.
In this politically charged environment, about the time of Corbett’s election as governor, AG’s Office narcotics Agent Anthony Sassano conducted a routine “toll search” in connection with a State College-area drug investigation and got a surprise hit on his PACE Explorer computer database.
Narcotics Agent Sassano discovered that a pedophile complaint concerning Jerry Sandusky had been filed in Corbett’s office way back in early 2009. What’s up with that?
Once the right hand was aware of what the left was not doing, other things became apparent.
Agent Sassano quickly learned that Centre County DA Ray Gricar had investigated a pedophile complaint against Sandusky in 1998. The agent soon helped piece together another story, told in public postings in Internet chat boards, concerning Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary.
McQueary saw something that deeply troubled him in 2002 involving Sandusky and a boy in the PSU shower room. He’d reported it to Penn State officials, including Coach Paterno. But had those PSU officials reported anything to DA Ray Gricar?
DA Ray Gricar, and what Gricar may or may not have known about Sandusky and these complaints, suddenly became, well, important. Trouble was, DA Gricar had mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth in April 2005. Ray wasn’t going to be talking to anyone in the AG’s office any time soon. Nor could invisible Ray provide much insight about Sandusky’s earlier legal treatment, status, or much of anything else, for that matter, including the weather, or what he might have for lunch.
As Clarence the Angel tells George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
By now even Inspector Clouseau could divine there was more amiss than just DA Ray in Tom Corbett’s troubled AG’s office.
It became all too apparent that here was multi-layered in the office of the state attorney general. And it was heading to the governor’s office.
Why hadn’t Corbett pushed to solve DA Gricar’s disappearance, or even seemed much concerned about it?
Following DA Gricar’s much celebrated strange vanishing, AG Corbett had just as mysteriously refused to allocate much in the way of resources to address Gricar’s non-existence. Oh, a state police unit was assigned to supposedly look into Gricar’s non-whereabouts. But that was just another one of Corbett’s Keystone Kops details, one State College private investigator tells me. “Those guys didn’t know shit from shinola.”
AG’s office flaks were still putting out the line that perhaps DA Ray, looking forward to retirement in a few months, had simply “wandered off,” leaving behind his family and his well-vested pension, and that DA Ray was most likely not the victim of anything untoward. Like the 2008 Sandusky complaint, the disappearance of DA Ray Gricar was for some reason never at all a priority of Tom Corbett’s.
The one law enforcement official — Ray Gricar — who could best shed light on the multiple Sandusky pedophile complaint(s) himself was long gone, and AG Corbett had long ago allowed the trail to go stone cold, cold, cold.
What was up with that?
Corbett avoids assigning Sandusky case to AG’s Child Predator Unit:
‘Could have done a quick grand jury in two months’ time’
Why had there been no serious investigation or prosecution of Jerry Sandusky before the 2010 governor’s election? Do we really need to ask?
Tom Corbett simply did not want a Sandusky pedophile investigation to go forward, going back to 2009, those with knowledge of the case say.
Now that he’d won the governor’s office, Corbett was out of the way. He’d used the AG’s office as a political stalking horse, and now he climbed off the broken beast and sauntered away to greener pastures. Corbett got what he’d wanted, and that was all that mattered to him.
“Corbett didn’t want the Sandusky investigation to go forward. He resisted it for some reason. There was no priority at all to it. He told his staff he didn’t want to do it. Corbett was the problem.”
Corbett associates point out that AG Corbett had every opportunity to pursue the investigation for a year and a half, and had many venues available to him to do it, his lame excuses involving “Bonusgate,” and “slow grand juries” notwithstanding.
For example, AG Corbett could simply have assigned the 2008-2009 Sandusky complaint(s) to the AG office’s much-hyped Child Predator Unit, which would have been a normal and logical course of action for a case like this.
“In order for law enforcement to stay one step ahead of … sexual predators the Office widened the scope of the Attorney General’s task force into a larger, broader statewide Child Predator Unit,” the AG’s office website explains.
“In January 2005, a dedicated Child Predator Unit was created using a group of specially trained agents and prosecutors across Pennsylvania to identify and capture … predators before they can harm children,” the webpage goes on to tell voters.
The webpage reminds us, “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that one in five girls and one in ten boys are sexually exploited before they reach adulthood.” Tom Corbett would do nothing to improve those statistics.
In 2011, in fact, the AG’s office crowed that its hard-working Child Predator Unit had, since its inception in 2005, arrested 298 child predators. Jerry Sandusky would never be among the hundreds arrested by the unit.
“The Child Predator’s Unit could have done a quick grand jury in two months’ time back in 2009, arrested Jerry Sandusky like all the other predators and got him off the street.”
But that never happened. AG Corbett didn’t seem to trust his own vaunted Child Predator Unit to handle the Sandusky case, or to get the job done.
Or, alternately, Corbett could have chosen to assign the Sandusky case to his Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force, which was formed in 1995.
“The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General has also been recognized as a leading law enforcement agency in this area with respect to its proactive ‘sting’ operations aimed at pedophiles and child pornographers,” the AG’s Child Exploitation Task Force’s webpage explains. “These ‘sting’ operations are designed to arrest and convict those individuals who actively seek teen and pre-teen children to engage in deviate sexual conduct. Through continued cooperation and support, the Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force will work to eradicate crimes against our children while keeping pace with today’s technology.”
The Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force evidently couldn’t keep pace with the AG office’s own PACE computer system, where evidence lurked for a year and a half of the languishing Sandusky pedophile complaint(s) referred to Corbett’s office in March 2009.
You begin to get the picture. AG Corbett had many venues available to him to get the Sandusky case moving, if he so chose. He simply chose not to, as those around Corbett say.
Making sad matters even more ridiculous, after the nationwide public relations fiasco of the Sandusky case hit the fan in November 2011, Gov. Corbett would disingenuously propose yet another agency in the AG’s office to supposedly follow through on child abuse complaints. Talk about the fox watching the hen house.
Informed parents and children for their own safety would be better advised to avoid the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General altogether. It’s simply not a safe or responsible place, at the moment, for kids.
In fairness to the hard-working and genuinely concerned members of these child predator units, I should point out the obvious: Tom Corbett was the problem here, not them. It was the injection of politics into the office of attorney general that’s the problem. The inherent political nature of the office remains. And that’s a big problem, as we now see.
It’s a matter of public record how fast things happened once Tom Corbett won his governor’s election and was on his way out the AG office door, leaving behind a broken and demoralized AG’s office staff.
It was a magic moment, a transition time between two attorneys general where the professional staff has greater-than-normal latitude.
The involvement of the narcotics unit officer, and the subsequent discovery of the two earlier Sandusky complaints, tied together with the vanishing of DA Ray Gricar, now made the case compelling, to say the least.
No time was now wasted. In December 2010, Mike McQueary was finally put in front of the soon-to-expire Thirtieth Statewide Grand Jury. “The graduate assistant was never questioned by University Police and no other entity conducted an investigation until he testified in Grand Jury in December, 2010,” the Sandusky grand jury presentment tellingly concludes.
On January 12, 2011, less than a week before Tom Corbett was sworn in as governor, Penn State officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz finally made it before the Thirtieth Grand Jury, perjuring themselves, the AG’s office later would allege.
Like the earlier grand juries, those grand jurors wouldn’t be given much of a crack at the case. In fact, the Thirtieth Grand Jury was set to expire at the end of January 2011, only a month after they’d first heard from McQueary. In February a new statewide investigating Grand Jury, officially numbered the Thirty-Third, loaded with newcomers, would have to be convened and sworn in to take fresh testimony long overdue in the Sandusky case.
Meanwhile, late in January 2011, seven additional state police and AG office agents were now assigned to the Sandusky investigation(s). The priorities and resources were finally beginning to be placed.
Karen Arnold would be one of the witnesses to testify before the new, Thirty-Third Statewide Grand Jury. Arnold was a Centre County Assistant DA (ADA) working under District Attorney Ray Gricar when the first complaint had been filed against Jerry Sandusky in 1998. She briefly was assigned the Sandusky case.
Former ADA Arnold tells me that she only had the 1998 Sandusky case for “two or three days” before DA Gricar, without explanation, took the case from her.
“Ray was my boss and he said he would handle it,” former ADA Arnold says. “I only had the Sandusky case for a few days. I don’t know why Ray handled it the way he did. I can’t read his mind. I’m not a mind reader.”
She says Ron Schreffler of the PSU police department originally referred the Sandusky case to the DA’s office way back in 1998. Schreffler was an investigator with the university police department. He handled the original 1998 Sandusky complaint. Schreffler in those days oversaw most of the important investigations at the university, including those involving drugs, football betting, arson and bomb incidents. Schreffler helped produce the 100-plus-page report about the 1998 Sandusky incident that was referred to DA Gricar. That report has become one of the more sought after Pickwick Paper / MacGuffins in the current media paper chase for Sandusky documents.
Former ADA Arnold says she was contacted in February 2011 by a woman in the AG’s office. She asked Arnold to testify before the new grand jury.
“‘You shouldn’t worry if you’re not familiar with the grand jury process,'” Arnold says she was told by the AG’s office contact, “‘as these jurors are new too.'”
Arnold says she testified before the newly seated grand jury the day after Ash Wednesday, which places her testimony on March 10, 2011. Ash Wednesday is what is known as a “moveable feast.” That’s fitting, for a moveable scandal like this. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 days Jesus fasted before beginning his ministry, during which time he was tempted, Scriptures say, by Satan.
“The grand jury experience was one of the more negative experiences in my life,” Arnold says. She adds, “There are aspects of the Sandusky case this grand jury ignored and that will bite them in the ass if the case goes forward.”
She wondered aloud about the multiple grand juries involved in the case, and how much of the hundreds of pages of testimony had been produced by which of the jurors. “You have to wonder what’s going on,” she says.
Within a few months of her testimony — and more than a dozen years after DA Ray Gricar took the 1998 case away from her — Jerry Sandusky would finally be arrested for predatory acts against children.
Karen Arnold would suddenly be inundated with telephone calls from media, and a New York Times reporter would be pounding on her door.
Like some long overdue bill, the grand jury presentment finally was delivered and Sandusky arrested in November 2011. Much of the glory would go to a newly appointed and confirmed Attorney General Linda Kelly. But she hadn’t come to office until late May 2011.
Not many in the public nor the media understood that the ball really got rolling in the Sandusky case when the AG’s office was helmed by Acting Attorney General William Ryan, who had been passed over by Gov. Corbett for the AG’s job. Ryan accomplished in several weeks and months’ time what AG Corbett could not do in a year and a half.
And what became of Bill Ryan?
On August 19, 2011, less than two months before Sandusky’s arrest, Governor Tom Corbett announced he’d appointed Ryan chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. The former Acting AG would now be in charge of the state’s casinos and racetracks.
“Bill’s proven integrity and more than three decades of experience as a prosecutor will serve him well as the new chairman of the Gaming Control Board,” Corbett said.
Ryan obviously knows more than just prosecuting. Ryan obviously knows something about gambling, and politics, and how both games are played.
For Gov. Tom Corbett, meanwhile, there remained one more important task following the nationwide public relations fiasco of Jerry Sandusky’s long-overdue arrest. Corbett had to protect his own carcass, and cover his own ass for the nuclear blast he now feared was about to blow.
It wouldn’t do to have the public focus on Corbett’s own refusal to investigate or prosecute Jerry Sandusky for a year and half. Corbett sought to change the conversation. He looked around for a likely scapegoat(s) to take the fall for him. What’s one more victim, or two?
Corbett incredibly settled on a beloved 85-year-old to take the fall. The Gipper was down, why not kick him down some more? Gov. Corbett landed on the brilliant idea of throwing Joe Paterno under the bus. As Nixon observed, when the wolves are gaining, it’s time to toss a baby from the sled.
After all, hadn’t Joe Paterno failed to follow up by calling the university police or DA Gricar in 2002? It wasn’t nearly as bad as deliberately sandbagging the Sandusky case for a year and half, and actively shielding and protecting Jerry Sandusky, as AG Corbett had done.
But Corbett knows from first-hand experience that today’s corporate media is servile, for the most part isn’t all that smart or morally scrupulous, and doesn’t look into things all that deeply or for very long. And more and more these days they simply write what they’re handed. Corbett himself learned this on his long slog for the governor’s chair, and all through the recent years of growing corruption in Pennsylvania. That business with the 6,500 kids sold down the river in Wilkes-Barre had blown over. Maybe the serial rape of innumerable kids at Penn State will blow over too.
Corbett’s job as attorney general had been to prosecute. To uphold the law. To protect the public. He didn’t do so well in that job. Now, as governor, the job was altogether different.
A competent governor, and a good man, would have, and should have, asked the public not to rush to judgment against Joe Paterno. A competent leader, and a good man, would have asked the public to wait for all the facts to come in. A competent governor, and a good man, would have reminded the public of the great and exemplary services performed for Pennsylvania, and Penn State, by Joe Paterno in over 60 years on the job. A competent governor, and a good man, would have pointed out that that Joe Paterno was Our Coach.
‘Joe Paterno was Pennsylvania’s Coach, and we owed him, in his final days, our debt of gratitude, not a death of instant scandal and ruin’
Joe Paterno was Pennsylvania’s Coach, and we owed him, in his final days, our debt of gratitude, not a death of instant scandal and ruin.
“It’s going to kill Joe,” suddenly was on everyone’s lips. “It’s going to kill him.”
Tom Corbett, as usual, had his own not-so-sorry ass to worry about. It would be the pathetic act of a desperate, morally bankrupt man.
On November 9, 2011, Gov. Tom Corbett indulged the Penn State board of trustees, by telephone, to throw Joe Paterno under the bus. At the moment of the vote to fire Paterno, Corbett said over the speakerphone, “Remember that little boy in the shower.”
From the 31 trustees in the room there was no response. No question. No objection. Just silence. Despite the illustrious backgrounds of most of them, they all marched in lockstep, following Corbett’s lead.
Corbett wasn’t there to look them, or Paterno, in the eye. He wasn’t there to explain why he had done nothing to help that little boy. He wasn’t there to explain why he himself had prevented any investigation for a year and a half. He wasn’t there to explain the double standard. Why should the coach be punished, but not the attorney general/governor? As I say, in Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, some are more privileged than others.
That night Corbett got his scapegoat, and the students rioted in State College. A weary nation turned its eyes to the fleeting images of the saddened cries, groans and crashes of the decline and fall of Pennsylvania.
A simmering story in the sports columns in moments ignited into an all-consuming firestorm, a national disgrace, and a world-class scandal.
Tom Corbett’s self-serving decision to sack Coach Joe Paterno and make Paterno the fall guy in this long-running tragedy was as if, one observer told me, “the A-bomb had been used to detonate the H-bomb.”
But competence, and properly handling a delicate, important matter, after all, has never been Tom Corbett’s forte. Tom Corbett’s forte has always been fixing cases.
This time, if there remains any justice at all on earth and in heaven, the fix might yet fix him.
As I finish writing this essay, sadly, news arrives of the passing of Coach Joe Paterno.
How had we come to this?
It is Acting Attorney General Bill Ryan’s role as state attorney general in the magic moment period between Corbett and Kelly that bears our close consideration.
It is that magic moment itself, that period between the transactions, when politics is there, and isn’t there, that deserves our thoughts.
It is indeed a magic moment. It is a moment when law enforcement professionals in Pennsylvania can, in the most amazingly unfettered fashion, do something extraordinary.
With the Sandusky case, after all, Acting Attorney General Bill Ryan didn’t have to do much of anything but give proper priority to the case, assign it proper resources, and sit back and watch the process take its normal course.
It’s one more measure of our collective sickness, and our jaded expectations of political machinations, that we have to wonder at all about the motivations behind this once-normal process.
Enforcing the law, it used to be called at the attorney general’s office.
— Bill Keisling IV
posted January 22, 2012
This is the second of a planned three-part essay.
Read the first part, Busted: Narcotics officer nabs Sandusky, here >.