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Feds hit Penn State with record $2.4 million fine for bad crime reporting, including Sandusky scandal

The federal government wants to assess a $2.4 million fine for noncompliance with a transparency law.

Ohio v Penn State Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday it plans to fine Penn State nearly $2.4 million for violations of the Clery Act, the federal law that governs crime disclosure at universities participating in federal aid programs.

The announcement is connected to Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, which started to unfold publicly in 2011. But the Education Department seeks to fine the school for reporting errors that reach well beyond Sandusky and the football program, where he worked from 1969 until 1999. Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison in 2012.

Penn State can appeal until Nov. 25, as part of a process that frequently leads to schools paying less than the government’s initial proposed fine.

The Education Department’s fine, as announced, is by far the largest ever for Clery Act violations. The previous highest fine, the department said, was $350,000 after a settlement in 2007 with Bucknell. In 2013, the department issued Penn State a preliminary report that found non-compliance, and Penn State outlined steps it was taking to get in line with the law.

Thursday, the department filed a 239-page report whose conclusions led it to fine Penn State a total of $2,397,500. It seeks to assess fines for 11 specific findings, but Clery Act violations specifically “related to the Sandusky matter” are just a small piece on their own, totaling $27,500.

The biggest element of the government’s fine, by far, is for “failure to properly classify reported incidents and disclose crime statistics” between 2008 and 2011. That includes an allegation against Sandusky, but mostly reports that have nothing to do with child molestation or sexual assault. (Drug and liquor law violations are the most frequent.)

The department says Penn State received a 2011 letter from a Sandusky accuser alleging crimes that occurred “well in the past.” Penn State didn’t include a report of the accusation in its 2011 statistics but should have, the department says.

When the department sent Penn State a preliminary review in 2013, it asked the school to perform an accounting of crime reports it hadn’t previously declared. The school reported 331 omitted crimes and said they were “often the result of an on-the-ground interpretation of nuanced facts, circumstances, and crime definitions.”

The fine for the 2008-2011 crime accounting problems is $2,167,500, about 90 percent of the total amount the government wants the school to pay. That includes fines of $27,500 “for each violent crime Penn State did not report” to the Education Department in a 2011 security report.

After the Sandusky scandal broke five years ago, the NCAA investigated and announced sanctions on Penn State’s football program that it later walked back. The NCAA also fined Penn State $60 million, but Pennsylvania’s legislature has directed that money only be spent on in-state programs to fight child abuse. The university continues to be involved in insurance cases surrounding Sandusky’s crimes, too.