The lawyer for three former students who allege they were sexually assaulted or harassed by a top official at a state university in the Poconos several years ago is urging Pennsylvania's attorney general to either pursue a criminal investigation of her own or refer the case to a special prosecutor.
The attorney general's office has credible evidence against Isaac Sanders, East Stroudsburg University's former vice president for advancement, but it has failed to launch a criminal probe while it is defending the university and its administrators from a civil lawsuit filed by the students, said their lawyer, Albert R. Murray Jr.
"Your office's failure to conduct a criminal investigation while defending ESU and its administrators ... is burdened by an obvious and disturbing conflict of interests," Murray wrote to Attorney General Kathleen Kane in a letter dated July 3 and released Wednesday.
"I implore you to take immediate action to stop this serial sexual predator and to bring him to justice," he wrote, either by referring the case to the attorney general's criminal division or appointing a special prosecutor.
A federal civil trial on the students' claims is scheduled for October. Sanders denies wrongdoing.
Sanders' attorney, Harry Coleman, denounced Murray's letter as a publicity stunt that "reeks of desperation."
"We want to fight this in the appropriate venue, and that is a federal courtroom. Dr. Sanders has been long awaiting his day in court, and I find these other stunts to be inappropriate," Coleman said.
A spokesman for Kane said that Murray's letter is under review but that her office would not be able to prosecute because, as Murray pointed out, it is already defending the university in civil court.
"We had already taken the civil defense, and that would've created a conflict for the office while we were defending the university and the administrators," said spokesman J.J. Abbott.
Monroe County District Attorney E. David Christine Jr., who also has the ability to pursue a criminal prosecution, did not return a phone call 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. Murray said the attorney general's office has a copy of that report, which is sealed.
He pointed out that Kane recently faulted police and prosecutors for long delays in bringing child sexual abuse charges against former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.
"These young men's lives are no less important than the victims in the Sandusky case and deserve justice, as well," he told The Associated Press.
The 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.
Sanders has held executive positions at Stillman College, Tuskegee University and Alabama State University and has conducted seminars around the country on higher education administration and fundraising.
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.