Claim: Joe Paterno Was Told of Sandusky Abuse as Early as 1976

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(CNN)

(CNN)

Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno knew that his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing a child as early as 1976, according to a claim by an insurance company.

This date is 18 years before what had been thought as the earliest known incident of abuse by Sandusky. The allegation was revealed in a single line of a court document filed Wednesday.

Sandusky was found guilty in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys during the 1990s and 2000s. He used a charity he founded and access to the college football team to entice and abuse kids. Sandusky is serving a prison sentence between 30 to 60 years.

Paterno’s family issued a statement Thursday saying the late coach’s “reputation has once again been smeared with an unsubstantiated, forty-year-old allegation.”

“Over the past four and a half years, numerous allegations that were taken as fact when they were initially communicated have been proven false. It is in this context that the latest claim should be viewed,” the family said.

“The reckless, all-out rush to accept accusations as legitimate without a full fair review of the facts cannot be allowed to happen again.”

The allegation that Paterno and assistant football coaches were aware that Sandusky was molesting children back in the 1970s and throughout the 1980s surfaced in a lawsuit brought by Penn State University against its former insurer, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association.

The lawsuit, filed in 2013, seeks to determine whether Penn State or its insurance policy is liable for paying victims who were abused by Sandusky. At least 30 men were involved in a civil settlement with Penn State, and the number of victims could be even higher.

“PMA claims … in 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU’s Head Football Coach Joseph Paterno, that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky,” the document reads.

The insurance company also alleged that Sandusky sexually abused children in the 1980s, according to the court filing.

• In 1987, a Penn State assistant coach “is alleged to have witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and a child at a PSU facility.”

• In 1988, another Penn State assistant coach “reportedly witnessed sexual contact between Sandusky and a child.”

• In 1988 again, “a child’s report of his molestation by Sandusky was allegedly referred to PSU’s Athletic Director.”

“There is no evidence that reports of these incidents ever went further up the chain of command at PSU,” Judge Gary Glazer wrote in the court filing.

It’s unclear what evidence the insurance company had in making these claims. A number of depositions from the victims included as evidence in the case’s docket are sealed. The footnotes in the judge’s filing cite these depositions as evidence for the abuse allegations.

Before these revelations, the earliest known incidents involving Sandusky dated to 1994. Sandusky abused children whom he met through a charity he founded called the Second Mile.

Paterno’s legacy

Paterno enjoyed a reputation as the most successful coach in major college football before the Sandusky scandal.

Paterno died in 2012 at age 80 under a cloud of suspicion that he, along with Penn State officials, failed to act after learning of Sandusky’s misconduct.

Months after his death, a 900-pound bronze statue of a beaming Paterno was taken down outside the Penn State football stadium.

Paterno’s family has vehemently defended his legacy and denies that he played any role in a cover-up, even though an independent investigation funded by Penn State found he had knowledge of allegations against Sandusky as early as 1998.

The Paternos’ attorney, Wick Sollers, told The Patriot-News: “An allegation now about an alleged event 40 years ago, as represented by a single line in a court document regarding an insurance issue, with no corroborating evidence, does not change the facts. Joe Paterno did not, at any time, cover up conduct by Jerry Sandusky.”

— CNN’s Sara Ganim and Patricia DiCarlo contributed to this report.