HARRISBURG, Pa. – A handcuffed Jerry Sandusky testified by video link for nearly three hours Tuesday as Pennsylvania’s public pension agency considered his request to restore retirement benefits cancelled because of his child molestation conviction.
Testimony from the former Penn State assistant football coach focused on circumstances surrounding his retirement from the university, as well as the links between the school and the charity for troubled youth he founded that paid him as a consultant after he left Penn State.
Speaking from inside the western Pennsylvania prison where he is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence, Sandusky described how he retired from Penn State in mid-1999 to take advantage of an early retirement incentive, and then was immediately rehired on a temporary basis to coach one last season.
It may be a few months before Sandusky learns whether a hearing officer will recommend the State Employees’ Retirement Board reverse the decision that was made the day Sandusky was sentenced in October 2012. The decision stopped his US$4,900-a-month payments and also disqualified his wife Dottie — who attended the Tuesday hearing — from collecting benefits.
Sandusky said that after the 1999 season, he never received another paycheque or W-2 tax form from Penn State, never held himself out to be a Penn State employee and was even given a retirement party. At issue is whether he could be considered a school employee about a decade later, when prosecutors say he committed sex crimes, which were deemed to meet the state’s standards for forfeiture.
Sandusky disputed documents that claim he received dozens of payments from Penn State after 1999.
In its October 2012 letter to Sandusky announcing his pension had been revoked, SERS said Sandusky “received no fewer than 71 separate payments” from Penn State between 2000 and 2008 for travel, meals, lodging, camps, speaking fees and other activities.
“I don’t know the exact number for sure,” Sandusky testified Tuesday. “But I know it was in the neighbourhood of three. It was far from 71.”
Sandusky attorney Charles Benjamin has said Penn State made only six payments to Sandusky between 2000 and 2008, and three of them involved travel costs. The other three were speaking fees of $100, $300 and $1,500.
Questioned about two of the young men who testified against him at trial, Sandusky bristled at their description as victims 1 and 9, as they were known in court records, although he was convicted of crimes against them. He was asked if he met them through The Second Mile charity.
“Correct,” Sandusky said. “Alleged victims, I would call them, yeah.”
Sandusky, who’s maintained his innocence in the criminal case, said he had little contact with major donors while watching football games from a skybox after retirement, and paid Penn State rental fees to use branch campuses for football camps and a university golf course for The Second Mile fundraisers.
“If you call that ‘supporting,’ renting the facilities, yes, Penn State did that, they provided a location for us to pay and use the facilities,” Sandusky said.
Sandusky was the only witness called by his attorneys.
The retirement system’s sole witness was an employee who read a timeline that outlined the former coach’s history with the pension agency, starting when he was hired by Penn State in 1969.
The hearing officer, Michael Bangs, also has a large volume of records and exhibits to consider.
The retirement system ruled that his convictions for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault fell under Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act. Sandusky had opted to participate in the state-sponsored retirement system while at Penn State, which is a “state-related” university, but he was not a state employee.
At the heart of the dispute is whether Sandusky’s ties to the university after his retirement, including the payments, made him a “de facto” Penn State employee while committing the crimes in question.
His lawyer has argued he was not and that his employment contract was not renewed after the forfeiture law took effect in 1978 so its terms do not apply to him.
In a Dec. 9 filing, Benjamin also argued that Sandusky did not fit the definition of “school employee” under the forfeiture law.
“No reported case in the history of Pennsylvania jurisprudence has ever applied a ‘de facto’ employee analysis to deny someone his retirement earnings, and SERS should not bow to political pressure and ‘mob rule’ to deny claimant his retirement earnings,” Benjamin wrote.
SERS had subpoenaed two former Penn State administrators facing allegations of a criminal coverup about Sandusky — former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice-president Gary Schultz — but an agency lawyer said at the start of the hearing that both men asserted their Fifth Amendment rights not to testify.
There is currently no trial date set for Curley and Schultz, who are being prosecuted in the Dauphin County Courthouse, about two blocks from the SERS headquarters.
If the board rules against Sandusky, he may appeal to Commonwealth Court.