By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Three men have come forward to say they were sexually abused as early as the 1970s or 1980s by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, years before the assaults that he was convicted of committing, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported on Monday.
The men are the first alleged victims with complaints dating back to the 1970s against Sandusky, who was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period beginning in 1994, the newspaper said.
Police are aware of the men's claims, said the article by reporter Sara Ganim, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for her coverage of the scandal.
It was not clear if the men had been interviewed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who last week released a report excoriating the late Pennsylvania State University football coach Joe Paterno and other school officials for failing to take steps for 14 years to protect children victimized by Sandusky.
Freeh's report, commissioned by the Penn State board of trustees, did not mention any cases prior to the 1990s.
Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, said he could not comment on matters before a grand jury. The grand jury investigation into the Sandusky case remains open.
Sandusky's attorney Joseph Amendola could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sandusky, 68, faces as many as 373 years in prison.
Paterno's family, meanwhile, angered by Freeh's report, denied the report's findings and said they will conduct their own investigation into the child sex abuse scandal that has stained the football legend's legacy.
Former university President Graham Spanier, who was among those singled out in the report for failing to stop Sandusky, also issued a statement through his lawyers objecting to Freeh's findings.
The statement said the report ignored "important facts including the conclusions of a far more independent and thorough investigation of Dr. Graham Spanier conducted simultaneously by federal officials responsible for our national security."
That investigation began when the Sandusky scandal surfaced, the lawyers said, and was conducted because Spanier holds top secret security clearance in connection with work he does for the U.S. government. The statement said that Spanier's security clearance was reaffirmed following the federal investigation.
Asked about the clearance and his government work, Elizabeth Ainslie, a lawyer for Spanier, said in an email response, "I'm told the government does not confirm or deny top secret security clearances, at least of this type."
'THE LAST WORD'
Paterno family members said they "are dismayed by, and vehemently disagree with" findings in the report that accused Paterno and other officials of covering up allegations of sex abuse by Sandusky to avoid bad publicity that could upset donors and damage the Penn State brand.
The Paterno family said it has asked its attorneys and experts to conduct a comprehensive review of Freeh's report and comments, and "we have also asked them to go beyond the report and identify additional information that should be analyzed."
They said they asked Freeh to preserve all his records, notes and other materials "as we expect they will be the subject of great interest in the future."
"To those who are convinced that the Freeh report is the last word on this matter, that is absolutely not the case," the family said. "It is highly likely that additional critical information will emerge."
Paterno's estate could be sued for damages by victims of Sandusky's abuse, according to legal experts.
The scandal rocked the world of college sports with Sandusky's arrest in November, and Freeh's report underscored what it called callous disregard and inaction by Penn State officials. It said they had known about allegations against Sandusky since 1998, when university police investigated a complaint of abuse but let him off with a warning.
Critics have called for Penn State's highly regarded football program to be penalized and for the removal of a campus statue of Paterno, who won more games than any coach in major college football history.
A university spokesman said on Monday that neither the board of trustees nor the Penn State administration had made a decision on the statue.
Paterno was fired by the board in November and died in January of lung cancer.
"To claim that he knowingly, intentionally protected a pedophile is false," his family said in the statement.
The Freeh report said emails exchanged in 1998 and 2001 showed school officials discussed reporting allegations about Sandusky to authorities. After speaking to Paterno, "they changed the plan and decided not to make a report," Freeh said.
The Paterno family said it did not intend to duplicate Freeh's efforts and would not make further comments until its attorneys have an update on the progress of their investigation.
A spokeswoman for the family would not specify the attorneys or experts who will be involved in the new investigation.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Paul Thomasch; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman)