Paterno Passed On Home to His Wife for $1
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Joe Paterno
transferred full ownership of his house to his wife, Sue, for $1 in July, less than four months before a sexual abuse scandal engulfed his Penn State
football program and the university.
Documents filed in Centre County, Pa., show that on July 21, Paterno’s house near campus was turned over to “Suzanne P. Paterno, trustee” for a dollar plus “love and affection.” The couple had previously held joint ownership of the house, which they bought in 1969 for $58,000.
According to documents filed with the county, the house’s fair-market value was listed at $594,484.40. Wick Sollers, a lawyer for Paterno, said in an e-mail that the Paternos had been engaged in a “multiyear estate planning
program,” and the transfer “was simply one element of that plan.” He said it had nothing to do with the scandal.
Paterno, who was fired as the football coach at the university last week, has been judged harshly by many for failing to take more aggressive action when he learned of a suspected sexual assault of a child by one of his former top assistants.
Some legal experts, in trying to gauge the legal exposure of the university and its top officials to lawsuits brought by suspected victims of the assistant, Jerry Sandusky, have theorized that Paterno could be a target of civil actions. On Nov. 5, Sandusky, Penn State’s former defensive coordinator, was charged with 40 counts related to the reported sexual abuse of eight boys over 15 years. Paterno, 84, was among those called to give testimony before a grand jury during the investigation, which began in 2009.
Experts in estate planning and tax law, in interviews, cautioned that it would be hard to determine the Paternos’ motivation simply from the available documents. It appears the family house had been the subject of years of complex and confusing transactions.
Lawrence A. Frolik, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in elder law, said that he had “never heard” of a husband selling his share of a house for $1 to his spouse for tax or government assistance purposes.
“I can’t see any tax advantages,” Frolik said. “If someone told me that, my reaction would be, ‘Are they hoping to shield assets in case if there’s personal liability?’ ” He added, “It sounds like an attempt to avoid personal liability in having assets in his wife’s name.”
Two lawyers examined the available documents in recent days. Neither wanted to be identified because they were not directly involved in the case or the property transaction. One of the experts said it appeared to be an explicit effort to financially shield Joe Paterno. The other regarded the July transaction, at least on its face, as benign.
Last Wednesday, the university’s board of trustees fired Paterno and Graham B. Spanier, the university’s president.
In 2002, Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant in the football program, told Paterno that he had seen Sandusky with a boy in the football building’s showers. How explicit McQueary was in describing what he saw is in dispute. But according to state prosecutors, Paterno testified under oath that McQueary had told him that he had seen Sandusky doing something of a sexual nature to a roughly 10-year-old boy.
Paterno did not report the incident to the police or encourage McQueary to make
such a report. Instead, he passed along the allegation the next day to the university’s athletic department and one other senior administrator.
On the day he was fired last week, Paterno said he and his wife were praying for the victims, described the events as a tragedy and admitted that he wished he had done more in 2002.
“Coach Paterno wants to tell his side of the story and answer questions, and I am hopeful he will be able to do so down the road,” said Sollers, Paterno’s lawyer.
The lawyer whose name is attached to the latest matter involving the couple’s house is David C. Pohland of Cassidy, Kotjarapoglus & Pohland of Greensburg, Pa. Pohland did not return a telephone message on Tuesday. The maiden name of Sue Paterno, who is 13 years younger than her husband, is Pohland. It was uncertain if there was any relation between her and the lawyer.
Nate Schweber and Jo Becker contributed reporting.