STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Two former Penn State officials were charged on Monday with covering up alleged sexual assaults of young boys by a former coach, as authorities widely criticized the university for allowing the abuse to continue unchecked for more than a decade.
The scandal has tarnished the reputation of the university, its football program and Joe Paterno, the revered head coach who reported the abuse up the athletic program chain of command. Paterno himself is not a target of the investigation, authorities said.
Pennsylvania's top police officer's voice quivered when he said that in 40 years on the job he had never seen a case where someone was so clearly caught and yet not turned in to police.
"This is not a case about football, it's not a case about universities, it's a case about children who've had their innocence stolen from them and a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others," Frank Noonan said.
"What happened here was 'grooming,' where these predators identify a child, become mentors ... then give them gifts, establish trust, initiate physical contact, which eventually leads to sexual contact," Noonan said.
Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator on the college's storied football team, faces charges that he abused eight boys. A grand jury's report details his alleged sexual assaults of children as young as 10 in his home and in the team's locker room showers.
Sandusky's attorney Joe Amendola has said his client, who left Penn State coaching in 1999, was shaken by the charges but knew they were coming. "He's maintained his innocence," Amendola said.
The Sandusky case has shaken the college and its alumni, who see Paterno as a paragon of leadership for his 45 years as head coach, for winning the most games in big-time college football history and graduating players who went on to star in the National Football League.
The charges against Athletic Director Tim Curley and finance official Gary Schultz, both of whom stepped down Monday, are over their failure to alert police after they learned through Paterno of the alleged abuse, as well as perjury in their statements to the grand jury.
Curley went on administrative leave early Monday and Schultz returned to retirement, the university said. Later in the day, both men were formally charged and released on bail. They are due back in court late next week.
"The charges at face value are disturbing to say the least," Harrisburg District Judge William Wenner said.
Lawyers for Curley and Schultz told reporters after the arraignment their clients denied the charges and said they were innocent.
AKIN TO CHURCH SCANDALS
The campus newspaper, the Daily Collegian, said in an editorial: "The moral failure of every single person involved is appalling. No one did anything more than try to sweep this problem off-campus."
Some details of the case are similar to the sweeping scandals involving sexual abuse by priests the Catholic Church tried to keep hidden for decades.
In one of the incidents, Sandusky, 67, is alleged to have forced a boy as young a 10 to have sex with him in the shower at the football complex in 2002. At the Monday press conference, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly begged for the boy to come forward, as authorities still do not know his identity.
A graduate assistant saw the encounter and reported it to Paterno, who relayed the information to Curley.
Sandusky is alleged to have recruited his victims from a charity he founded to help underprivileged children, called "Second Mile," authorities said.
The charity moved quickly on Monday to disassociate itself from Sandusky, saying in a statement that once the former coach informed them in 2008 that he was under investigation, they barred him from contact with children.
"From 2008 to present, Mr. Sandusky has had no involvement with Second Mile programs involving children," the charity said.
The abuse by Sandusky took place as far back as 1996, according to a statement from investigators.