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200 interviewed in Penn State investigation

By Michael Rubinkam

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 21 2012 10:35 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2011 file photo, former FBI director Louis Freeh speaks after it was announced by Ken Frazier, obscured at rear right, chairman of the Penn State University special committee, that Freeh will lead an independent investigation into allegations of child abuse by a former Penn State employee, in Philadelphia. Freeh and his investigators have conducted 200 interviews in their expansive probe into the child sex scandal at Penn State, asking questions that go beyond the abuse charges against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and into the relationship between the football program and the administration.

Alex Brandon, File, Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Former FBI chief Louis Freeh and his investigators have conducted 200 interviews in their extensive probe of the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, asking questions that go beyond the charges against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and into the relationship between the football program and the administration.

Since November, when the Penn State Board of Trustees hired his group to examine the Sandusky case, Freeh's team has talked to people ranging from high-level administrators to retired secretaries to current and former staffers in the athletic department. That includes many employees who worked at the football building while the late Joe Paterno was coach.

The trustees themselves also are among those to be questioned, said board chairwoman Karen Peetz, who told The Associated Press 200 people have been interviewed in all.

As Freeh seeks to fulfill his mission — he is charged with finding out how Penn State failed to stop an alleged predator in its midst, and with recommending changes aimed at preventing abuse — board members facing criticism are stressing anew that the former federal judge and his team have complete independence. They see the breadth of his investigation as a sign of that.

"They're extremely reputable, impeccable credentials, a mandate to investigate thoroughly," trustee Joel Myers said after a board meeting last week in Hershey. "Let the chips fall where they may so we come out of this a better institution."

Trustees ousted Paterno on Nov. 9, four days after Sandusky was charged with dozens of sexual assault counts. Eight of 10 boys Sandusky is accused of abusing were attacked on campus, including at the football facilities, prosecutors allege.

While the charges shocked the Penn State community, Paterno's forced departure after 61 years with the school outraged many former players and alumni, who assert the trustees acted rashly. Some alumni watchdog groups question whether Freeh's report will be a whitewash.

Freeh, who declined interview requests, has said that he would conduct his investigation "without fear or favor," and that he agreed to take the job only after the trustees pledged that he would be allowed to work with "total independence." He said when he was appointed that his probe would "look carefully at the governance, protocols, decision-making and oversight within the university."

Two people who have been interviewed said they were asked about compliance with NCAA rules and about leadership dynamics — for instance, how Spanier interacted with the athletic department, and how Paterno interacted with the university administration. The people, who requested anonymity because they have been told not to speak publicly about the investigation, said they were also asked about the football program's influence on the athletic department and across the university.

But the line of questioning has varied depending on who is being interviewed. Investigators also have asked for suggestions on other people to question.

Linda Woodring, a retired personnel specialist in the athletic department, said she spent "a couple hours" at Freeh's State College office. She declined to reveal what she told them, saying "they asked that it remain confidential," but that the questions focused on her job. Woodring worked at Penn State for more than 40 years and processed Sandusky's retirement.

"They expressed to me that they were looking toward the future of Penn State to try to prevent things like this from happening again," she said.

Trustee Keith Eckel, who was interviewed for two hours last week, said investigators were thorough.

"My interview started when I was born and went through to now. I'm serious," Eckel said. "It covered a lot of ground."

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