Pennsylvania State University paid settlements to end claims that Joe Paterno and other coaches at the school knew as early as the 1970s that Jerry Sandusky was assaulting children sexually, according to court filings and a person familiar with the payouts.
One accuser was a child when he allegedly told Paterno in 1976 that Sandusky had molested him. Two assistant coaches witnessed Sandusky's misconduct with children in the 1980s, and a former athletic director also was told about sexual contact between the former assistant coach and a child, according to the filings.
The claims were never aired or proven at trial. But the allegations and settlements, cited in a Philadelphia judge's ruling in a related case this week, suggest for the first time that Sandusky's sexual misconduct was known to some on campus decades before he first drew law enforcement scrutiny.
Lawrence Lokman, a Penn State spokesman, said Thursday that university officials knew of the allegations, but he declined to discuss them. "It's not something we could talk about out of sensitivity for any possible victims and because it's part of a legal case," he said.
Paterno's knowledge of Sandusky's conduct has been perhaps the most contentious if unresolved aspect of the case, and still roils the school and its supporters today. He was fired days after Sandusky was charged, accused of failing to act on signs Sandusky molested a boy, and the NCAA stripped more than 100 wins from his record. School officials also removed his iconic statue from the stadium. He died months later still contending he did nothing wrong.
Paterno's family, through its lawyer, dismissed the claim, insisting that scrutiny from "an endless list" of investigators and lawyers over the years still had not proven any wrongdoing by the coach.
"An allegation now about an alleged event 40 years ago, as represented by a single line in a court document regarding an insurance issue, with no corroborating evidence, does not change the facts," said a statement by lawyer Wick Sollers. "Joe Paterno did not, at any time, cover up conduct by Jerry Sandusky."
Late Thursday, the family said it was "demanding a full public review of the facts" regarding the claim.
The allegations were referenced Wednesday in an opinion by Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer in a related dispute between Penn State and its insurer over who should pay settlement costs to Sandusky victims.
"There is no evidence that reports of these incidents ever went further up the chain of command at PSU," Glazer wrote, citing depositions from accusers who reached settlements with the university.
A source familiar with the settlement deals confirmed that the accusers making decade-old claims that Glazer referenced were among those who were paid settlements.
Previously, state prosecutors and an independent investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh had established 1998 as the earliest date that they believed Paterno and other school officials knew or should have known that claims made against Sandusky had been reported to police.
Former Penn State president Graham B. Spanier and two other administrators are awaiting trial on charges that they ignored or concealed signs that Sandusky was molesting boys.
The former defensive coach's own 2012 trial centered only on sex attacks that dated back a decade or so and that were prosecutable under the statute of limitations. Dozens more accusers have since filed claims in civil court.
The university has never disclosed the full range of allegations by about 30 Sandusky accusers with whom it reached settlements. In 2013, officials said Penn State had reached settlements totaling $60 million with 26 victims. A separate batch of cases was settled last year without specifying the number of victims or payout amount.
Those included one accuser who was a child when he allegedly told Paterno in 1976 that Sandusky molested him, and another whose report of abuse was referred in 1988 to Penn State's then-athletic director, according to the opinion.
Glazer also noted that depositions of accusers taken by university lawyers said two Penn State assistant coaches witnessed "inappropriate contact" between Sandusky and children in two incidents in 1987 and 1988.
The court filings related to the settlements of those allegations appear to be sealed in the insurance case.
Investigators who worked on Sandusky's criminal prosecution in 2012 have said that they interviewed dozens of potential accusers who detailed abuse by the assistant coach dating back decades, but that none told them that Paterno knew about the abuse.
The only former assistant football coach to acknowledge witnessing misconduct was Mike McQueary, who testified at Sandusky's trial that he had told Paterno in 2002 that he saw inappropriate contact between Sandusky and a child in a Penn State locker room shower.
The latest revelation comes as Paterno's reputation has been on the mend. The NCAA last year agreed to restore the 111 wins it stripped from the coach after the Sandusky case emerged, once again making him the winningest coach in Division I college football history,
Though a bronze statue of Paterno has not been returned to campus after its controversial removal in 2012, some trustees and Paterno loyalists have started discussions about finding a way to honor the coach, but not until the charges against Spanier and the others are resolved.
Penn State president Eric Barron declined to comment Thursday.
Anthony Lubrano, a longtime Paterno supporter and a member of the board of trustees, said he had not heard of the 1976 allegation.
"I highly doubt the veracity of the allegation," Lubrano said. "Allegations are allegations."
Marci Hamilton, a lawyer who represented two Sandusky victims who settled with the university, said she doubted Penn State would have offered a payout to accusers whose stories could be discredited.
"With Penn State back then, they were trying to get the attention back on their football team, and they weren't challenging these lawsuits tremendously," Hamilton said. "But they weren't just throwing money at [accusers] either."
Glazer's ruling Wednesday came in the midst of a fight over whether Penn State's insurance policies cover the payouts to Sandusky victims. The school's insurer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association Insurance Co., has disputed responsibility for paying some claims.
The judge ruled that the school should be responsible for paying claims for abuse that occurred in an eight-year stretch in the 1990s because its policy included an exemption for molestation. A jury will have to determine its degree of liability before and after that span, Glazer wrote.
It is unclear how many claims settled by Penn State fall within each time period.
Steven Engelmeyer, the lead attorney for the insurance company, declined to comment Thursday.