The law firm of former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh has been hired by Penn State’s Board of Trustees to investigate the university’s governance, compliance, and controls, in relation to the reporting of sexual crimes, the board’s special investigative committee announced on Monday.
Freeh, founder and partner of the firm Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, will use his appointment as special investigative counsel to review gaps in in-house policies and procedures that stem from charges of child sexual abuse against former university football coach Jerry Sandusky. Freeh has already assembled a team of former FBI investigators and federal prosecutors, some of whom have expertise in child predator cases and in compliance matters, Freeh said at a press conference in Philadelphia.
“No one—no one—is above scrutiny,” said Merck & Co., Inc. CEO Kenneth Frazier, a member of the Board of Trustees and head of the board’s special committee tasked with the internal investigation. That includes university administrators, employees, and “every member of our board of trustees,” Frazier added.
The grand jury investigation of Sandusky also led to perjury charges against two university officials and, over the past two weeks, has prompted many to question the university’s internal policies and procedures with regard to reporting the alleged crimes.
“People are asking completely valid questions about why actions were not taken” to protect the victims, said Frazier. “People from all walks of life have been deeply affected by the reports of these crimes.”
The role of the university’s Board of Trustees in overseeing an internal investigation has also been questioned. Throughout the conference, both Frazier and Freeh stressed multiple times that Freeh’s investigation will be “independent” and that he will have “complete reign” in the probe, said Frazier.
Freeh said that assurances of independence were a condition of his acceptance and that his mandate is clear: to investigate “fully, fairly and completely,” and to display no favoritism.
Still, the Board of Trustees will be responsible for receiving and implementing the report, Frazier said in response to a question about the board’s role in the investigation, and whether or not the board will be specifically subject of Freeh’s inquiry
Freeh has also been a board member of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and he has no connections to the university or to the state of Pennsylvania, said Frazier, further explaining the board’s choice.
Freeh said he will cast a net for all that “intersects” with the reporting and identification of these incidents, from university policies and procedures to compliance and governance structure. Ultimately, both Freeh and Frazier said, Freeh’s team will recommend changes to the Board of Trustees based on the findings.
Freeh’s team has already begun to review records, he said. The scope of the investigation will encompass a time period that dates back to 1975 as the team interviews “all necessary and appropriate witnesses” and reviews policies, procedures, compliance, and internal controls related to the reporting of sexual crimes.
“We’re not conducting a criminal investigation, but we will ask the criminal investigators for their help and assistance,” Freeh said. He said that his investigators “will immediately report any evidence of criminality” to law enforcement officials.
The team has established a hotline to receive tips and information (855.290.3382), scheduled to go live at 5 pm on Monday. Freeh also gave an email address ([email protected]) where tips and information can be sent.
Freeh said he could not estimate what the investigation will cost, nor could he say how long it will take.
In response to a question about his lack of subpoena power and legal authority, Freeh said: “Independent investigations on a non-governmental basis are conducted all the time” by corporations and non-profits.
Frazier said the results of the investigation will be made public, but also said that Freeh will not be issuing interim reports. And neither Freeh nor the special committee “will be in a position to comment until the investigation is completed,” Frazier said.
Frazier would not comment specifically on reports that the university has hired outside counsel Reed Smith. “The university has retained counsel for its purposes related to these events,” he said, while Freeh is acting as the “independent, investigative counsel” to the Board of Trustees.
Frazier would not comment on the university’s civil liability in the wake of the sex abuse scandal, and also offered an apology to victims and their families on behalf of the board and the Penn State community. “What occurred must never be allowed to happen again,” he said. “We are deeply, deeply sorry.”
See also: “CorpCounsel Coverage of the Penn State Abuse Case,” CorpCounsel, November 2011.