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Originally published Friday, February 13, 2009 at 3:25 PM

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Lawsuit: Pa. university covered up sexual assaults

A state university in the Poconos was sued Friday by five former students and one current student who claim they were sexually assaulted or propositioned by a top university official with a national reputation in higher-education circles.

Associated Press Writer

ALLENTOWN, Pa. —

A state university in the Poconos was sued Friday by five former students and one current student who claim they were sexually assaulted or propositioned by a top university official with a national reputation in higher-education circles.

The lawsuit said East Stroudsburg University and its president covered up the assaults and harassment by Isaac Sanders, the school's vice president for advancement, in an attempt to shield him from liability.

Sanders, who had been the university's chief fundraiser since 2000, left East Stroudsburg in October following an investigation by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The state Human Relations Commission has also launched a probe.

The civil suit, filed Friday in Monroe County Court, names as defendants East Stroudsburg, Sanders, university president Robert Dillman, the board of trustees and others.

A university spokesman had no immediate comment. A spokesman for the State System of Higher Education declined to comment. An attorney for Sanders did not immediately return a phone message.

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' "inappropriate and unlawful sexual conduct toward plaintiffs and other young African-American ESU students was blatant, open and notorious," the suit said.

Dillman knew about Sanders' conduct but obstructed an internal investigation and ignored complaints from Sanders' own staff, the suit said.

"It's a very, very bad situation that's been going on there for several years with the knowledge of a lot of people," said Albert R. Murray Jr., an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"These were boys who were preyed upon because of the fact they were from single-parent households, they were looking for help, they were looking for mentorship. That's one of the things that hurts the most," he said Friday.

The Monroe County district attorney has launched a criminal probe into the allegations, according to the Pocono Record newspaper.

Last year, the university paid a $140,000 settlement to a former employee who raised questions about financial discrepancies in the university's fundraising department, the paper reported.

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.

In addition to his job at the university, Sanders also served as executive director of the ESU Foundation, a private, nonprofit group that raised funds for East Stroudsburg. The suit said Sanders "repeatedly offered money to plaintiffs, in the form of foundation scholarships" and offers to pay the students' expenses.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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