Saturday, January 20, 2018
Colleges

Report: Notre Dame's Manti Te'o is victim of serial hoaxer

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the California man suspected of being behind the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, confessed in early December to fooling the Notre Dame star linebacker, ESPN's Outside the Lines reported Friday.

A woman, whom the show did not identify because she said she feared for her family's safety due to the story's attention, told Outside the Lines she was a church friend of Tuiasosopo's and he gave her an account of how he played what he said was at first a game on the unsuspecting Te'o. She said that Tuiasosopo told her it wasn't the first time he had done it and that Te'o, 21, had no knowledge of the hoax.

The website Deadspin first reported Wednesday that it could find no record of Lennay Kekua, Te'o's girlfriend, existing. Te'o's ascendancy to national star and Heisman Trophy candidate was propelled by the personal backdrop of a girlfriend, Kekua, who died from leukemia in September.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a news conference Wednesday that coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te'o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself" with Te'o, the school said, then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had died.

Swarbrick said the relationship took place online and over the phone. Te'o had described staying on the phone with whom he thought was Kekua for hours each night over many months. Tuiasosopo's friend told ESPN that Tuiasosopo admitted to having his female cousin speak to Te'o over the phone.

The woman said she worries about Tuiasosopo's guilt over what he did to Te'o and his family name, one of the most prominent in all of Polynesian sports.

ESPN interviewed two other people — J.R. Vaosa, 28, of Torrance, Calif., and Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, 21, of Whittier, Calif. — who said they have a cousin who had the same online hoax pulled on them by Tuiasosopo in 2008.

On Friday morning in Bradenton, Te'o met with family members and a team of advisers who are trying to determine the best way for him to address the controversy, ESPN reported. Te'o is at the IMG Academy preparing for the NFL draft.

In other developments:

• Te'o has told family and friends that the woman who was the voice of his fictitious girlfriend called him in December and said she had to fake her own death months earlier to elude drug dealers, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Te'o said the woman tried to re-engage a relationship with him months after she supposedly had died, the Star-Advertiser reported. Te'o asked the woman to transmit a photo to him with a date stamp, which she did, but that did not allay his suspicions and he later told his family and Notre Dame officials about being duped. The account does not give the date of the call but Swarbrick said that the woman contacted Te'o on Dec. 6, while he was in Florida for an ESPN awards show.

"He received a phone call from a number that he recognized as having been associated with Lennay Kekua," Swarbrick said. "When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same person that he had talked to, who told him she was, in fact, not dead."

• Several TV reports, including Inside Edition, have identified the woman in the photo that had been posted on Kekua's Facebook page as Diane O'Meara, a 23-year-old who works in marketing. She has said the photo was used without her permission and she was not involved.

• Swarbrick is encouraging Te'o to speak publicly, saying he believes Te'o has to explain exactly how he was duped into the entire situation. Swarbrick said school officials would rather see Te'o talk about it "sooner rather than later."

• Te'o quietly began dating a woman shortly after he learned "Kekua" had died, website TMZ reported. Te'o met Alexandra del Pilar, 21, a student at St. Mary's College, an all-girls school near Notre Dame, the weekend of Nov. 10. Te'o and Pilar dated for nearly two months but broke up recently, TMZ said. There are photos on Pilar's Twitter feed, USA Today reported, showing her and Te'o sitting on Santa's lap together around Christmas.

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