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Amid sex abuse scandal, Jerry Sandusky tells his own story

The former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky,  said Coach Joe Paterno never spoke to him about any suspected misconduct with minors.
/ Source: The New York Times

The former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, in his first extended interview since his indictment on sexual abuse charges last month, said Coach Joe Paterno never spoke to him about any suspected misconduct with minors. Mr. Sandusky also said the charity he worked for never restricted his access to children until he became the subject of a criminal investigation in 2008.

The failure by Mr. Paterno to act more aggressively after being told in 2002 that Mr. Sandusky had molested a 10-year-old boy in the showers of the university’s football building played a role in Mr. Paterno’s firing last month after 62 years at Penn State. Mr. Sandusky, in the interview, said that Mr. Paterno did not speak to him or confront him over the accusation, despite the fact that Mr. Sandusky had been one of his assistant coaches for three decades and was a regular presence at the football team’s complex for years after the 2002 episode.

Mr. Sandusky, in a nearly four-hour interview over two days this week, insisted he had never sexually abused any child, but he confirmed details of some of the events that prosecutors have cited in charging him with 40 counts of molesting young boys, all of whom came to know Mr. Sandusky through the charity he founded, known as the Second Mile.

Mr. Sandusky said he regularly gave money to the disadvantaged boys at his charity, opened bank accounts for them, and gave them gifts that had been donated to the charity.

Prosecutors have said Mr. Sandusky used such gifts as a way to build a sense of trust and loyalty among boys he then repeatedly abused.

Mr. Sandusky, after repeated requests, agreed to the interview because he said his decades of work with children had been misunderstood and distorted by prosecutors.

“They’ve taken everything that I ever did for any young person and twisted it to say that my motives were sexual or whatever,” Mr. Sandusky said. He added: “I had kid after kid after kid who might say I was a father figure. And they just twisted that all.”

Lack of boundaries
Yet over the course of the interview, Mr. Sandusky described what he admitted was a family and work life that could often be chaotic, even odd, one that lacked some classic boundaries between adults and children, and thus one that was open to interpretation — by those who have defended him as a generous mentor and those who have condemned him as a serial predator.

He said his household in State College, Pa., over the years came to be a kind of recreation center or second home for dozens of children from the charity, a place where games were played, wrestling matches staged, sleepovers arranged, and from where trips to out-of-town sporting events were launched. Asked directly why he appeared to interact with children who were not his own without many of the typical safeguards other adults might apply — showering with them, sleeping alone with them in hotel rooms, blowing on their stomachs — he essentially said that he saw those children as his own.

“It was, you know, almost an extended family,” Mr. Sandusky said of his household’s relationship with children from the charity. He then characterized his close experiences with children he took under his wing as “precious times,” and said that the physical aspect of the relationships “just happened that way.”

Wrestling, hugging — “I think a lot of the kids really reached out for that,” he said.

Mr. Sandusky said his wife, Dorothy, known as Dottie, ultimately had some concerns about the household dynamics. He said she had warned him not to neglect his own children — the Sanduskys had adopted six children, including one from the Second Mile — “for the sake of other kids.” Mr. Sandusky recalled one scene after a Penn State football game that underscored her concerns.

“I remember the kids were downstairs, and we always had dogs,” he said. “And Dottie said, ‘You better go down and check on those kids, you know those Second Mile kids after football games.’ I went down, and I look, and there goes a kid flying over a couch, there goes a dog flying over a couch. And I go, ‘I don’t think she wants to see this.’ ”

He said of his household: “Yeah, I mean it was turmoil. It was turmoil.”

During the interview, conducted at the home of his lawyer, Mr. Sandusky was at times subdued, but occasionally capable of humor — some of it awkward laughter about his legal jeopardy and ruined reputation, some of it bright amusement at a recalled anecdote about his own father, who himself had worked with disadvantaged and disabled children, or a moment of remembered comedy at one of the many summer camps he helped run for children.

He grew most animated when talking about his relationships with children, and he grew most disconsolate when he, with a touch of childlike reverence, spoke of Mr. Paterno and Penn State, and the damage his indictment had caused them. “I don’t think it was fair,” he said.

Missing records
During the interview, Joseph Amendola, Mr. Sandusky’s lawyer, captured what he asserted was his client’s predicament:

“All those good things that you were doing have been turned around,” Mr. Amendola said, speaking to his client, “and the people who are painting you as a monster are saying, ‘Well, they’re the types of things that people who are pedophiles exhibit.’ ”

Prosecutors, in their indictment of Mr. Sandusky, charged him with a horrific array of abuse, including the repeated assaults of young boys.

Mr. Sandusky, in the interview, confirmed aspects of what prosecutors have said was a manipulative scheme: he gave money and gifts to Second Mile children, including computers and golf clubs. However, Mr. Sandusky presented his actions in a benevolent light.

“I would call kids on the phone and work with them academically,” he said. “I tried to reward them sometimes with a little money in hand, just so that they could see something. But more often than not, I tried to set up, maybe get them to save the money, and I put it directly into a savings account established for them.”

Sometimes, he said, he found work for the children at his football camps. Sometimes he bought them shoes or a shirt with his money. And sometimes, he passed along gifts to them that had been given to the charity by donors. “I never bought a computer for any kid; I had a computer given to me to give to a kid,” he said. “I never bought golf clubs. People gave things because they knew there would be kids. They wanted to get rid of things.”

It is unclear whether the supervisors or directors of the charity knew of Mr. Sandusky’s setting up bank accounts or giving away donated gifts. Investigators with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office have subpoenaed the financial records of the charity, but say they have been alarmed to learn that some records from some years are missing.

Jack Raykovitz, the executive director of Second Mile, resigned after Mr. Sandusky’s indictment.

Mr. Sandusky, in the interview, said Penn State officials had contacted Mr. Raykovitz after the episode in 2002. An assistant football coach has told investigators that he saw Mr. Sandusky raping a young boy in the football building’s showers, and that he told Mr. Paterno some version of that scene the following day. Mr. Paterno has testified that he then informed the university’s athletic director, Tim Curley, that Mr. Sandusky had done something sexually inappropriate with a young boy.

Mr. Sandusky, in the interview, said word of an episode with a young boy in the shower reached Mr. Raykovitz. He said he talked with Mr. Raykovitz, and identified the boy he thought Penn State was concerned about. Mr. Sandusky, though, said Mr. Raykovitz did not see fit to limit his interaction with youths, in part because he was aware of the nature of Mr. Sandusky’s mentoring relationship with the boy, and in part because he knew Mr. Sandusky had undergone repeated background checks clearing him to work with children.

Mr. Raykovitz’s lawyer, Kevin L. Hand, called Mr. Sandusky’s account inaccurate, but refused to say more.

No communication with Paterno
As for Mr. Paterno, Mr. Sandusky said the two never spoke about any incidents, not the episode in 2002 or an earlier complaint of child molestation made against Mr. Sandusky in 1998 that was investigated by the Penn State campus police.

“I never talked to him about either one,” Mr. Sandusky said of Mr. Paterno. “That’s all I can say. I mean, I don’t know.”

Mr. Paterno, through his son, Scott, has denied knowing about the 1998 investigation at the time it happened.

“He’s the only one who knows whether anybody ever said anything to him,” Mr. Sandusky said of Mr. Paterno.

In the interview, Mr. Sandusky, the longtime defensive coordinator at Penn State, said that his relationships and activities with Second Mile children did cause some strain with Mr. Paterno, but only in that Mr. Sandusky worried that having some of the children with him at hotels before games, or on the sideline during games, risked being seen as a distraction by the demanding Mr. Paterno.

“I would have dreams of we being in a squad meeting and that door fly open and kids come running through chasing one another, and what was I going to do?” he said. “Because, I mean, Joe was serious about football.”

Mr. Sandusky, despite expressing concern about talking about the formal charges made against him, did talk about his relationships with several of the eight people cited as victims by prosecutors last month. He said his relationships with more than one of them had extended for years after the suspected episodes of molestation or inappropriate behavior.

In 1998, the mother of a child reported concerns to the Penn State campus police when she learned her son had showered with Mr. Sandusky at the university. After an investigation, Mr. Sandusky admitted to the police and child welfare authorities that he had most likely done something inappropriate, according to prosecutors. The local district attorney declined to prosecute.

In the interview this week, Mr. Sandusky said the boy and his mother remained a part of his life for years. He said that the mother had sought him out for tickets to Penn State games for her son, and that Mr. Sandusky had contributed financially years later, when the young man, interested in the ministry, went on a mission.

“He went to Mexico in the poverty-stricken areas and worked with the kids and things like that,” Mr. Sandusky said of the young man. “He showed me, he sent me pictures of he and the kids.”

'Some of them sought me out'
In the grand jury report, prosecutors cited Mr. Sandusky’s attempts to reach some of his accusers. He acknowledged that he reached out to at least one, but said he thought the young man might be a character witness on his behalf, and was unaware that prosecutors had listed him as a victim.

Asked how he came to be involved more closely with some children rather than others, Mr. Sandusky said he got to know many of them at Second Mile summer camps.

“Some of them sought me out,” Mr. Sandusky said.

Mr. Sandusky, facing grave charges and the possibility of imprisonment, discussed how much was now missing from his life, and how much more might be missing in the future.

“I miss coaching,” he said. “I miss Second Mile. I miss Second Mile kids. I miss interrelationships with all kinds of people. I miss my own grandkids. I miss, I mean you know I’m going to miss my dog. So, I mean, yeah, I miss, yeah. Good grief.

“I used to have a lot of contact with a lot of people and so that circle is diminished, and as it diminished, you know Bo is still there,” he said of his dog. “And I swear he understands. I swear he knows. And you know I love him dearly for that.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

This story, "Center of Penn State Scandal, Sandusky Tells His Own Story," originally appeared in The New York Times.