The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office won’t investigate a former state university official accused of sexually assaulting students several years ago because it’s already defending the university in the students’ civil lawsuit, state officials told the students’ lawyer.
An “internal conflict of interest between the Criminal Law Division and the Civil Law Division would preclude us from conducting a criminal investigation,” Lawrence Cherba, executive deputy attorney general, wrote in a July 10 letter to Albert Murray Jr.
Murray, the students’ lawyer, had urged Attorney General Kathleen Kane to investigate Sanders or appoint a special prosecutor. Murray released Cherba’s reply this week.
A federal civil trial on the students’ claims is scheduled for October. Sanders denies wrongdoing.
In a July 24 reply to Cherba, Murray blasted the state’s response as insulting and said state and local prosecutors have sat on the case for years.
“Clearly, you and the Attorney General have not made the effort nor taken the time to review and analyze the facts and circumstances of this case in any depth,” Murray wrote.
A spokesman for Kane declined to comment Wednesday.
Sanders, who had been the university’s chief fundraiser since 2000, was fired by East Stroudsburg in October 2008 following an investigation by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
The students’ lawsuit said Sanders, who is black, targeted emotionally fragile young black men from broken homes who looked to Sanders as a father figure or mentor. He dangled scholarships and campus jobs, then either pressured students for sex or physically attacked them to commit sexual assaults, said the suit, which also alleged Sanders misappropriated university funds.
Six students sued the school in 2009, but a federal judge dismissed three from the case because the statute of limitations had expired.
The judge recently dismissed claims that East Stroudsburg and its former president covered up the alleged assaults, but said there was enough evidence against Sanders for a jury to hear the case.
Murray said a criminal probe is warranted, too.
“Whether corruption of the system is involved, incompetence, or for some other reason not yet known — these young men, who have struggled to survive, the university, and the public, deserve a full, fair, and just resolution by an impartial law enforcement agency,” Murray wrote to Cherba.