The Wages of Board Inattention: Penn State May Sue Defunct Sandusky Charity

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September 5, 2017; Philadelphia Inquirer

Jerry Sandusky’s former charity, the Second Mile, is likely to be sued by Pennsylvania State University for the remainder of its assets, which amount to $750,000 that has been turned over to the state attorney general to be redistributed to other children’s charities.

It might seem odd to bring such a suit now. It hardly seems worth the time and money, since the school has already spent a total of $93 million to settle 32 claims of child sexual assault against the former Penn State coach. The charity began its dissolution process in 2012. Three former Penn State administrators, including ex-president Graham B. Spanier, were sentenced to jail for failing to take action when indicators began to appear of the former coach’s abuse.

The parameters of the suit and its basis have not been detailed, but it might be possible to hold the board members financially responsible for dereliction of duty. Penn State lawyer Joseph O’Dea wrote in court papers last year,

The Second Mile…knew or should have known of facts that reasonably suggested that Sandusky was sexually abusing and/or endangering children. As a result of the Second Mile’s…inequitable and unjustified refusal to accept responsibility for Sandusky’s conduct and the harm to the children, the university paid more than its share of the amounts necessary to settle the claims of the victims and alleged victims of Sandusky who participated in the Second Mile’s programs.

NPQ has repeatedly raised the issue of Second Mile’s culpability. Most recently, we wrote in 2016, “The list of the nonprofit’s sins reads like an a la carte menu of what not to do. Among the selections: founder as titled corporate officer, board conflicts of interest, lack of board term limits, and donors and celebrities as ‘leaders.’” That article references one from the fall of 2011, where Rick Cohen wrote:

Penn State may be found culpable for providing the facilities for some of Sandusky’s alleged acts of molestation, and Paterno may need to hire a criminal defense attorney, but Second Mile may be no less culpable than Paterno (or than Penn State President Graham Spanier and Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary—who witnessed one of the alleged rapes). It may very well turn out that Second Mile board members and senior staff turned a blind eye to the abuse of children under their care.

Thus, it is probably important at this late date to bring the suit, if only to bring the point home that this nonprofit board’s tragic lack of vigilance is unacceptable.—Ruth McCambridge