Friday, February 15

Revisiting Freeh

A look at what happened between the release of the Freeh Report and the release of the Paterno Report.

Bill Bender

With the renewed interest in the Freeh Report spawned by release of the Sollers/Thornburg/Clemente/Berlin (hereafter Sollers), rebuttal, it’s worth recapping what we already know about Judge Freeh and his famous missive.

Freeh has stood his ground, defended his work, and the initial wave of emotion has passed through the various camps that see this issue from diametrically opposed points of view.  Prior to Sollers the Freeh report was the subject of extensive criticism from those who questioned its methodology, conclusions, and manner of presentation, as well as some serious critical review by experts with an eye towards due process. 
Those critical reviews along with the work of numerous individuals who took it upon themselves to scrutinize both the report and the man behind it identified the majority of its failures well before Sollers introduced his conclusions on Feb 10th, 2013. But until the Sollers report garnered national media attention, the only ones paying attention were the Penn State faithful, ‘true crime’ aficionados, and those Americans whose intuition told them something was radically wrong.  Now that Freeh’s work is under review and in the spotlight of the MSM, let’s revisit what we learned subsequent to the Freeh report’s release:

Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship (PS4RS) undertook a review of the report in July 2012, conducted by lawyers among their number, and reached many of the same technical conclusions as Sollers. No one paid much attention.  After all, the source was highly partisan and the media had one of those ‘stories of the year’ in hand, so why dampen the heady times by publishing a fact-based challenge to the report that confirmed the suspicions of a vocal minority. PS4RS of course wasn’t alone in voicing their doubts. Prominent alums such as Franco Harris, media watchdog John Zeigler, and radio personality Kevin Slaten were and continue to be the most heard voices of reason, but our own committed group here at SMSS, and others like us, also pointed out the obvious failings.  Some of us even openly questioned the motives behind Freeh’s Framing document, something Sollers apparently wasn’t authorized to do, but those answers were and remain murky.  The point is, even mid-2012 we were questioning Freeh’s email ‘evidence’, lack of subpoena power, his dearth of meaningful interviews, and his conclusions spun from the dust of a suspicious agenda.

The Penn State Board of Trustees (BOT) challenged Webster to replace “incredulous” with a word that could capture the reaction of the Penn State community when the BoT proclaimed they had no intention of formally reviewing or accepting Freeh’s report, and went further to state they were only interested in the recommendations that guided them in seeking reforms to institutional governance. What did this mean? With everything on the line as it was, this indicated to many of us the BoT did NOT want to be placed in the position of defending Freeh’s conclusions.


 If they were in agreement simply saying so would cause no more damage than remaining silent, and avoid some of the more strident calls for their collective heads. When it comes to motive, the conventional wisdom among the dissenting alumni finds its answer in some sort of instruction to Freeh to “get us out of this."

Within hours of Freeh’s dramatic announcement and the report’s release Ken Frazier had echoed the report’s indictment of “The Big Four” while attempting an air of self-condemnation for the BOT’s failure to provide oversight.  Though he spit the names of the newly accused out as if announcing the latest lottery winners within hours of the report’s release, he looked, well, rather nervous. Actually he looked rather guilty. 
We’ll come back to Mr. Frazier in a bit.

So in mid-2012 we knew the BOT had established and was handling this internal investigation in ways that should have had the satellite trucks back in State College in droves.

The Second Mile.    You remember them, the charity Jerry Sandusky started in 1977 which ultimately was the source of the children he was convicted of abusing.  They don’t get mentioned much in the media, not nearly as much as Penn State, and of course The Big Four.  They have an interesting history, and interesting donors and financials.  You can learn a good deal about the latter through Ray Blehars’ articles here on SMSS

In September 2012 the blog site Tom In Paine dropped a ‘bombshell’ in revealing the bank where Freeh was vice chairman and General Counsel during the time of Sandusky’s grooming ways was a major corporate sponsor of Jerry Sandusky and Second Mile.  Further, despite credentials which proclaimed him free of Penn State ties, it was revealed Freeh was close friends with Ric Struthers, vice president and head of the credit card division of the bank in question, MBNA. Struthers sat on the board of directors of Sandusky’s Second Mile until around 2006.  Struthers was largely credited with the MBNA partnership with Penn State and its Alumni Association that resulted in thousands of MBNA credit card accounts among students and alumni, and of course profits measured in multiple seven figures.  When this article was published there were unheard cries of conflict of interest. 

No one in the MSM picked it up, or followed that trail.

MBNA went so far as to sponsor and attend a Testimonial Dinner at Penn State in honor of Jerry Sandusky.  Does this implicate MBNA, Ric Struthers, and Louis Freeh in Sandusky’s activities?  No, of course not.  Does it constitute a major conflict of interest in Freeh’s firm undertaking the Penn State investigation?  We should probably ask the media, they have a head for these things, don’t they?  

Sollers didn’t go after this, though we’ve known about it since last year, but maybe because it wasn’t a Pulitzer winning journalist who told us about it, no one listened.

 Louis Freeh  Imagine you sit on the Board of Trustees of a national public university that enjoys an academic, athletic, and ethical track record long the envy of your peers, and you’ve just been blindsided by a scandal the scope and nature of which demands a reasoned, deliberate response by seasoned professionals and leaders. With the resources available to you, you can acquire some of the most proven, respected, and uncontroversial figures in the fields of criminal and corporate investigation to assist in both crisis management and investigation.  Your immediate goal is two-fold:  engage outside resources to investigate whose credibility is beyond reproach, and develop and deploy a strategic communication plan that holds the jump-to-conclusions crowd at bay as you sort things out. 

That is, if your goal is a forthright examination of what went wrong and how it went wrong. 

The Penn State BOT did neither.

We don’t know why the BOT chose to act as they did, the theories are numerous, and for the most part are on the side of logic.  What they chose to do was hire a man shrouded in controversy through his tenure as FBI Director. His questionable track record was no more a secret in 2011 than it is now. Due diligence would have quickly disclosed his MBNA ties to Struthers and the Second Mile, his botched FIFA investigation, his tendency to grandstand  to make himself look good at the expense of others including his own organization, and most importantly, the long term damage he brought upon the credibility and reputation of the FBI. But the BOT perhaps saw other qualities in Louis Freeh that suited their needs.

Louis Freeh, Part II, the Contract. Actually, we don’t KNOW that there is a contract between Penn State and Freeh, Sporkin, and Sullivan.  Requests from PS4RS and other alumni-interested parties to review this agreement have gone unheeded, well, been refused, politely, sort of. 

Pennsylvania State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, who is also a Gov Corbett appointee to the BoT, says he doesn’t have these records. Tomalis is also the vice-chairman of the Penn State “Special Investigative Committee” (SIC) that hired Louis Freeh to….well we’re not sure what they hired Louis Freeh to do, that’s the problem in not having access to the contract.  Why would a public servant, not to mention the BoT, withhold this information from the taxpayers who shelled out part of the $6.5 price tag, and a university community hungry for real answers, if there is nothing to hide about a simple contract for services?
Ken Frazier.  The Chairman of the SIC is Bot member Ken Frazier, the one whose venomous words for Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno came so quickly after the publication of Freeh’s report.  Although there were no leaks about the report from Freeh’s team, Frazier had a detailed grasp and insight as to the failings of these men after just hours to review the 267 page report. 

Don’t believe me?  Good, I don’t believe it either.

Frazier is CEO of Merck.  One of his predecessors at Merck also sits on the BOT, Lloyd Huck.  Lloyd Huck’s wife Dottie was a board member of the Second Mile.  Now, without casting undue aspersions, I’ll borrow from a Nov 2011 Deadspin article to offer the point:

“Penn State, the school accused of covering up Sandusky's alleged crimes, has begun its own inquiry, which is headed by a man with a history of engaging in cover-ups, and who is chairman of the same company that once was chaired by a member of Penn State's Board of Trustees (Huck), who, in turn, is married to a member of the board of Sandusky's charity. And that man and his wife happen to have donated large sums of money to Penn State and to Sandusky's charity, both individually and through the company whose current chairman is now heading Penn State's investigation. Yeah, Kenneth Frazier is going to crack this thing wide open.” 

 Had Sollers reached a little further and included motive in his review, we might know a lot more about the dealings of the SIC, Ken Frazier, Louis Freeh, and the mysterious contract that brought them all together.
All of the foregoing is of course the tip of the iceberg. Those following this have read most of the thousands of pages of facts, commentary, research, and opinion, and depending on their position either dismiss it out of hand, or feel their anger and suspicion grow. 

An objective observer would have concluded the Freeh selection as the arbiter of truth in this matter as curious, back before Freeh ever interviewed his first anonymous witness. That same observer would be calling for a Grand Jury investigation if it all hadn’t been packaged and sold so cleverly.

The Sollers report has garnered attention, it has changed a few minds, has raised questions in many more minds, and those are good things. But over half a year ago “we” pointed out many of these things, and few listened.  A few more are listening now in the wake of Soller’s report, but most have already closed the front page and turned to the comics section. 

We encourage the Paternos to now move beyond the Freeh Report and  expand Soller’s charter, allowing him to take on new experts, and begin to provide understanding and clarity to the actions of those involved both within and external to Penn State that led to each failure along the way. 

We certainly will continue to do just that.    


  1. Bill - you make some very valid points and raise some excellent questions.

    I'd like to add this this. The Board of Trustees is now claiming they "only" commissioned that "report" for the recommendations for Good Governance found inside. (this highly contradicts their earlier statements, but I digress)

    So, using their logic...if they ONLY wanted the published recommendations, and are NOT accepting any of the other "findings", have not accepted the report, have not "signed off" on the report, refuse to provide the Scope or Contract for the report nor any agreement with Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan......WHY allow Freeh to have a grandstanding press conference that was streamed across Major Networks and the Interwebz less than 2 hours after you Board Members had that very same report?

    Why not just publish the "recommendations" for Good Governance on (like with everything else) after the Board has reviewed the report and provided a measured statement? Isn't this extremely irresponsible, foolish and just downright dangerous on their part as Trustees of a $4 Billion Flagship Institution of Higher Learning?

    Gee, the impression I get is that this perhaps this was all done to allow maximum impact by Freeh, with minimum input by the Board, to get an unaccepted message out to the public by the noon news cycle, going into the weekend.

    I also can't help but notice, in watching video clips of Frazier & Freeh, that they use the SAME words, the SAME statements, the SAME tone of inflection in their voice when discussing the Freeh Findings.

    It's almost as if........

  2. ALSO curious:

    The NCAA used the Freeh Report as their basis for its sanctions, even though the BoT "allegedly" never accepted the findings of that report as true. Yet, even though they never accepted the findings, they certainly appeared to have accepted the sanctions. Or at the very least didn't "scold" Erickson for accepting the sanctions - including a $60 Million fine that would certainly fall under the scope of "fiduciary responsibility" for Penn State.

    So if the BoT commissioned the Freeh report only for the set of governance recommendations, why allow the NCAA to use the full report as the basis for sanctions? Why not fight or at least debate the NCAA over that decision?

    The answer is pretty clear: the BoT is covering-up something else, something bigger. And while that sounds like a conspiracy theory, we'll see what shakes out in the next few months.