Meadville Tribune


July 2, 2014

Kane’s own Sandusky investigation reveals only acrimony

An 18-month probe by law professor Geoffrey Moulton Jr. was supposed to determine why Pennsylvania’s attorney general took three years to charge Jerry Sandusky after a teenager reported being molested by the former assistant football coach at Penn State.

Kathleen Kane, the current attorney general, had pledged the probe when she ran for office back in 2012.

“Why did this take so long?” Kane reiterated at a recent press conference. “It’s a legitimate question.”

Kane’s implied criticism is that her predecessors, most notably the current governor, Tom Corbett, slow-walked the Sandusky investigation.

But in a recent dramatic reveal of a much-hyped, anticipated report, there was no evidence that the delays were due to anything other than the challenges of a delicate investigation.

With so little substantial criticism in Moulton’s report, Kane had to veer off-script in a recent press conference to assert that two previously undisclosed victims had been molested by Sandusky late in 2009. What followed was argument and confusion.

Frank Fina, a former top prosecutor who oversaw the Sandusky investigation, told reporters after Kane’s press conference, “We don’t know who she is talking about.”

Kane’s office initially responded with a statement, given in the names of four current agents, insisting she was telling the truth.

But, as the week wore on, Kane clarified that one of the victims she was talking about had been among those who helped get Sandusky convicted.

All of this certainly didn’t help the attorney general, other than maybe to distract from the middling findings of Moulton’s long-awaited — not to mention expensive — report.

Kane’s review of the Sandusky investigation cost at least $188,000, her office said. But that doesn’t reflect time spent by other agents helping Moulton.

For example, in his review, Moulton describes how he worked alongside Special Agent Dave Peifer and pored over “thousands of pages” of documents.

Peifer makes $140,000 a year, state payroll records show.

Senior Deputy Attorney Laura Ditka also helped with the review. She’s paid $103,000 a year.

Moulton pointed to challenges in retrieving emails that were deleted under a policy adopted in the midst of the Sandusky investigation, directing attorney general staff to purge messages after six months.

Braden Cook, the attorney general’s computer forensics expert, eventually found a way to recapture many of those deleted emails. His pay is not mentioned in an online database of state employee salaries.

A Kane spokesman, J.J. Abbott, said the office hasn’t tallied the cost of the time that Peifer, Ditka and Cook spent helping Moulton. Abbott said their assistance didn’t keep Peifer and Ditka from their normal responsibilities. And, once Cook figured out how to retrieve the emails, his efforts didn’t involve “much time,” Abbott said.

Moulton’s review showed there were periods when the Sandusky investigation bogged down — at times inexplicably. Kane described this as evidence of her predecessors’ “inexcusable lack of urgency.”

There was no documented evidence that the prosecution was slowed to benefit Corbett’s campaign for governor, though.

At all points when those delays were reviewed and explained, Moulton’s report made it abundantly clear that supervisors in the attorney general’s office, including Corbett, wanted front-line prosecutors and law enforcement to come up with more evidence to build a stronger case.

For her part, Kane said she probably would have filed charges based on the initial accusations against Sandusky.

Prosecutors who oversaw the investigation took umbrage with her criticism. They noted their efforts ended with Sandusky’s conviction and a 30- to 60-year prison sentence.

The deliberate pace of their work accelerated only when they received another tip exposing the full scandal, which led to the firing of iconic football coach Joe Paterno. It’s unclear if that lead — much less a tsunami of controversy that followed — would ever have occurred absent their initial investigation.

It is clear from Moulton’s report that prosecutors were keenly aware of that possible outcome, however. Even as the investigation foundered, conversations swirling in the attorney general’s office kept returning to whether moving publicly against Sandusky would spur other victims to come forward or deter them from helping, Moulton found.

As things turned out, the case picked up steam as stories about a grand jury investigation started appearing in the Harrisburg Patriot-News and State College Centre Daily Times. Those stories alerted other witnesses to come forward and point investigators to details of Sandusky’s years of predatory behavior.

We’ll never know if the same outcome would have resulted had prosecutors done as Kane suggests and approached a grand jury with the initial accusation. But we do know this: It doesn’t help Kane that such speculative questions are all there is to show for a year and a half, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, spent on Moulton’s rumination and debriefing.

John Finnerty reports from the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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