In November 2011, the Penn State Board of Trustees searched for someone who could unearth the secrets buried deep within the scandal that erupted around the university.
On the 21st of that month, they revealed their selection: Judge Louis J. Freeh, former director of the FBI, special prosecutor and federal judge. He spearheaded an eight-month investigation, the results of which were released Thursday.
At the press conference held to announce Freeh’s appointment, Penn State trustee Kenneth Frazier, the chair of the investigation committee, said Freeh was chosen for his extensive background and his lack of Pennsylvania ties.
Frazier praised Freeh’s “unimpeachable and unparalleled experience in law and criminal justice.”
Richard Carlson, a longtime friend of Freeh’s and a colleague at the Foundation of the Defense of Democracies, said Freeh was the perfect choice for the undertaking.
Foundation of the Defense of Democracies is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank whose focus is the War on Terror. It formed shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks to “help free nations defend themselves,” according to its website.
He said Freeh is used to working in situations similar to the investigation at Penn State, and though they’ve fallen out of touch in recent years, he knew the university had chosen well.
“When I saw in the papers that he would be heading this investigation, I said, ‘What a great choice,’ ” Carlson said. “‘I can’t imagine that his report will not stand up as much as he does.’”
Carlson, a former ambassador to the Republic of Seychelles and one-time CEO of King World Television, said he’s known Freeh since he began as FBI director in 1993, when he was appointed by former President Bill Clinton. He called Freeh a hard worker and described him as “industrious,” “tough” and “unpretentious.”
Carlson noted one instance in which he really saw Freeh’s true colors — a 2001 incident in which one of the FBI’s own, Robert Hanssen, was found to be a Russian spy.
Hanssen was working some of the FBI’s most important counterespionage offices, according to a 2001 Time Magazine report, and was only the third FBI agent in history to be accused of espionage.
Carlson said Freeh and other members of the FBI were struck personally by the case, but pushed through and arrested Hanssen. Freeh himself directed the investigation and the arrest, he said.
“Freeh was watching from the command center and had him get arrested,” Carlson said. “He just kept it to himself. He was very self-contained.”
Though he touted Freeh’s work ethic, Carlson also described Freeh as a great parent and great friend, as their wives are both close.
Freeh said during his press conference Thursday that he is the father of six sons.
Freeh is a native of Jersey City, N.J., according to a biography posted on the Freeh Group’s website. He graduated from Rutgers College in 1971 and from Rutgers Law School in 1974.
Before his appointment to the top spot, Freeh joined the FBI as a special agent in 1975, according to the website. He worked first in the New York field office before transferring to Headquarters in Washington.
In 1981, he left the FBI and joined the United States Attorneys’ Office, returning to New York. During this time, Freeh became involved in the biggest case of his career: the “Pizza Connection” case in the late 1980s, an extensive drug-trafficking operation that used pizza shops as fronts and had ties to Sicilian organized crime.
Freeh served as the lead prosecutor on the case and was also eventually the main courtroom attorney for the federal government when it went to trial, according to the website. He won convictions for 16 of 17 accused traffickers in the 14-month trial.
In 1991, former President George Bush appointed Freeh to a position as a U.S. District Court Judge, working in the Southern District of New York.
He joined the FBI in 1993 and remained its director until 2001. He founded Freeh Group International Solutions after leaving the FBI, according to the website and is also a senior managing partner in the Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan law firm.
Carlson said Freeh’s accomplishments speak for themselves.
“This is really an outstanding person, there’s no doubt about it,” Carlson said.