Probe eyes Paterno's preference for handling problems internally

 The late Joe Paterno's apparent preference for handling issues involving his football program internally is being examined.

Story highlights

  • A group headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh has been poring over Penn State e-mails
  • E-mails provided to CNN show that Joe Paterno wielded power beyond the realm of football
  • An official says in a 2005 e-mail that Paterno wanted to keep disciplinary matters internal
  • "Coach Paterno would rather we NOT inform the public ... despite any moral or legal obligation ..."

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh's investigation into possible wrongdoing at Penn State University appears to be examining football coach Joe Paterno's apparent preference for handling scandalous issues internally, and what role that may have played in a potential cover-up involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse on June 22.

Freeh's group has been poring over internal Penn State e-mails and has interviewed a past university official about the way Paterno influenced a variety of disciplinary matters, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. Freeh is leading an internal review of Penn State's handling of the scandal that is unrelated to criminal investigations.

The e-mails obtained by CNN from a source familiar with the investigation, and first reported by the Wall Street Journal, show Paterno wielded power that went well beyond the realm of football or even the athletic department.

E-mails cast a pall on Penn State's Paterno

In a 2005 e-mail from Dr. Vicky Triponey, then vice president of student affairs in charge of disciplining students, to athletic director Tim Curley and others, she summarizes a meeting they had with Paterno in which he tells her that he wants to be the sole disciplinarian of his players.

She criticizes Paterno for wanting to limit the Campus Code of Conduct to incidents that take place on campus and keeping disciplinary matters involving his players private. "Coach Paterno would rather we NOT inform the public when a football player is found responsible for committing a serious violation of the law and/or our student code -- despite any moral or legal obligation to do so," according to her e-mail.

In the same e-mail, Triponey, also refers to calls her office was receiving from coaches and others. "I must insist that the efforts to put pressure on (Student Affairs) and try to influence our decisions...simply MUST STOP," she writes.

Dr. Vicky Triponey

Curley, in a subsequent e-mail, acknowledges that Triponey's take on the conversation with Paterno is accurate.

Triponey replies to Curley, "I know you are caught in the middle of a very difficult situation," an apparent reference to appeasing Paterno.

In a subsequent e-mail to then-Penn State President Graham Spanier she is more blunt: "I am very troubled by the manipulative, disrespectful, uncivil and abusive behavior of our football coach," she writes.

Triponey has been interviewed by the Freeh group, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Paterno's role in Sandusky case examined
Paterno's role in Sandusky case examined


    Paterno's role in Sandusky case examined


Paterno's role in Sandusky case examined 04:16
Blogger's meeting with Sandusky
Blogger's meeting with Sandusky


    Blogger's meeting with Sandusky


Blogger's meeting with Sandusky 02:36
Lawyer: Penn State e-mails are appalling
Lawyer: Penn State e-mails are appalling


    Lawyer: Penn State e-mails are appalling


Lawyer: Penn State e-mails are appalling 05:14
Sandusky still eligible for pension
Sandusky still eligible for pension


    Sandusky still eligible for pension


Sandusky still eligible for pension 03:20

In the same e-mail, she calls Paterno's behavior "atrocious" and said others are mimicking his behavior. "It is quite shocking what this man -- who is idolized by people everywhere -- is teaching our students..." she writes.

Triponey's e-mails may be a sign Freeh is also examining the culture around the football team as his investigators work to determine the circumstances surrounding a 2001 sexual incident with a young boy and Sandusky in a Penn State shower room and reported by then graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary.

In purported 2001 e-mails between Curley, Schultz, and Spanier, read exclusively to CNN, Curley appears to change his mind about reporting the locker room incident to outside authorities after speaking to Paterno, he wrote in one e-mail. Sandusky was convicted in June of four counts related to the 2001 shower incident, including unlawful contact with minors, a first-degree felony.

Curley and former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz face perjury and failure to report child abuse charges in connection with the Sandusky case. They have pleaded not guilty.

Disturbing e-mails could spell more trouble for Penn State officials

In 2007, after a widely reported incident where more than a dozen players crashed an off-campus party and started a violent brawl, Paterno appears to send an e-mail, through his assistant, to Spanier that says, "I want to make sure everyone understands that the discipline of the players involved will be handled by me as soon as I am comfortable that I know all the facts."

Paterno's attorneys have said the coach didn't use e-mail. The exchange shows while he may not have had his own e-mail account, his assistant would still send e-mails for him.

Paterno planned to punish the team by forcing them to perform 10 hours of community service and clean up the stadium after home games, according to a memo provided by a source familiar with the investigation.

After Triponey tried to discipline football players in the same manner as other students, she was harassed both online and at her home, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. On her front lawn somebody put up a "for sale" sign. Police installed a surveillance camera. In the end, the source says Spanier suggested she think about her future at Penn State, and she resigned.

After Triponey left Penn State, the university changed its discipline policy involving off-campus incidents. Its current code of conduct says it only applies to "off campus conduct that affects a Substantial University interest."

The Freeh goup and the university declined comment on this story.

Efforts Sunday night to obtain a comment from the Paterno family were unsuccessful. Paterno died of complications from lung cancer in January.

The 2001, 2005, and 2007 e-mail exchanges are among many now under investigation by the Freeh group. The e-mails revealed so far suggest coach Paterno preferred to handle bad behavior internally, a preference that may have influenced a decision by university officials not to report Sandusky to authorities in 2001 and allowed him to continue to abuse young boys.

Victim No. 6: Violation and vindication

In police interview, Matt Sandusky describes abuse

Muralist replaces Sandusky image; Penn State looks to cases ahead

Painful chapter closes with Sandusky's conviction for child sex abuse

      Scandal at Penn State

    • Paterno family to sue NCAA

      The family of Joe Paterno plans to file a lawsuit Thursday against the NCAA seeking to overturn its sanctions against Penn State University over a child sex abuse scandal.
    • Penn State students work on a banner at "Nittanyville" outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania, on Friday.

      Kicking off a new era of football

      In many ways, football is life at Penn State, a tradition synonymous with the campus. Nittany Lion fans are deeply religious about their football. Now, they begin a new era.
    • The site sits empty on Sunday where the Paterno statue once stood.

      When the hero falls off the pedestal

      It's an old, old story. We've all placed people on pedestals, and then, almost inevitably, they let us down. They violate our trust. They betray us. They fall off the pedestal, or we remove them.
    • BTS.Emmert.Penn State Sanctions_00002615

      'Stark wake-up call' for Penn State

      The NCAA announced a $60 million fine against Penn State University and stripped 14 seasons of football victories from the late head coach Joe Paterno.
    • STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Head coach Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions look on before facing the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium on October 23, 2004 in State College, Pennsylvania.  The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 6-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

      Sandusky 'empowered,' review finds

      The most powerful former leaders at Penn State University have been accused of showing "total and consistent disregard" for child sex abuse victims.
    • Guilty, guilty, guilty ...

      With the same decision announced on count after count -- guilty, guilty, guilty -- Jerry Sandusky's emphatic denials he had sexually abused boys became obsolete.
    • Sandusky: In his own words

      Jerry Sandusky admitted showering with boys but denied the sex accusations. Here is what Sandusky has said publicly in the months before the trial.
    • Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse following his child sexual-abuse trial on June 18, 2012 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Today the defense began their argument in the sexual abuse trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky who is charged with 52 criminal counts of alleged sexual abuse of children.

      Sandusky's son fits pattern of victims

      Jerry Sandusky's writings in a 2000 memoir about the difficult relationship with his adopted son are similar to several letters he wrote to a boy now known as alleged victim No. 4.
    • Holloway Sandusky

      What the 'Sandusky 8' said

      The words came haltingly, punctuated by ragged sighs, groans and cracking voices as two teenage boys bared their darkest secrets to a packed courtroom.