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Entries in Manti Te'o (9)

Saturday
Feb232013

After Hoax, Te'o Speaks to the Press

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images(INDIANAPOLIS) -- Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o spoke to the press on Saturday during the NFL Scouting Combine. He continues to deal with the fallout of the bizarre fake girlfriend hoax that has put his NFL draft prospects in jeopardy.

"The incident, I said all I needed to say about that," Te’o said. "How I’m handing it going forward, it’s doing what I’m doing right now: Focusing on the moment and focusing on football and the combine.”

"I just want to get down to business -- that's how I'd prefer it to be," he added. "I've learned the difference between the things I can control and the things I can't. And I just want the team I go to know that I'm going to work hard, and do my best to help the team win."

Gil Brandt, a senior analyst on NFL.com, reported that he had dinner with Te'o Friday night and wrote on Twitter that the star linebacker looked "upbeat."

"Looks ready to face press, circus that will come with it," wrote Brandt, who also mentioned that Te'o was undecided about attending the draft.

Te'o, 21, has been dealing with intense scrutiny from the press and public after it was revealed that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua, who supposedly had died of leukemia last fall, actually never existed.

Kekua been manufactured through texts, phone calls and twitter allegedly by a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

While some have questioned whether Te'o created the tragedy to garner attention and sympathy, he denied being involved in the deception and has claimed he was the subject of a malicious hoax. Some skeptics also questioned whether Te'o tried to use the story to improve his chances of winning the Heisman trophy, for which he was a finalist.

In an interview with Katie Couric, Te'o said he did not revel in the attention he received after the initial story broke of his girlfriend's death and that his emotions for the fictional Kekua were real.

"I think for me the only thing I basked in was that I had an impact on people, that people turned to me and for inspiration and I think that was the only thing I focused on. You know my story I felt was a guy who in times of hardship and in times of trial really held strong to his faith, held strong to his family and I felt that that was my story," said Te'o, who is a Mormon.

Te'o helped to lead the Notre Dame football team through an undefeated regular season that ended when they lost the BCS championship game to the University of Alabama.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Feb012013

Manti Te'o Hoaxer Says He 'Killed' Fake Girlfriend After Fight with Te'o

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the alleged mastermind behind the Manti Te'o "catfish" hoax, told Dr. Phil on Thursday that he killed off fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua because Te'o told "her" he didn't need her anymore and had been talking to four other girls on Skype.

Tuiasosopo said that Kekua and Te'o had broken up when "things had gotten a little shaky" two weeks earlier.  He said that when he checked Te'o's social media accounts, which he had the passwords to, he found that the only irregularity were conversations with other girls on Skype.

An angry "Lennay" called Te'o and demanded to know if he had been talking to other girls.  Te'o then told her that his grandmother had just passed away, which Tuiasosopo claimed he did not know.

"Forget I ever asked the question," Tuiasosopo recalled telling Te'o.  "I'm here for you.  I'll support you.  I'm praying for your family."

He claimed an angry Te'o said he didn't need her, never needed her and didn't want to speak to her again.  He also said that Te'o later texted that he had been talking to other girls on Skype, including two of his ex-girlfriends.

Tuiasosopo said that Te'o's anger hit him hard and upset him, as Ronaiah, not just as Lennay.

"I poured so much into Lennay," Tuiasosopo said.  "I was crying that morning, hurt, emotionally."

He decided at that point that he couldn't be Kekua anymore and need to end it.

Dr. Phil McGraw pressed Tuiasosopo to replicate the fake girlfriend's voice that spent countless hours talking to the Notre Dame star linebacker.

"Much of this relationship you had was on the phone...let me hear that voice," Dr. Phil demanded of Tuiasosopo.  "If that is you on those voicemails, then prove it."

"I can't, even if I tried," Tuiasosopo said.  "There's a whole lot that went into pushing me to do something like that..to go to that extreme consistently.  Even if I tried, it doesn't come off right."

Tuiasosopo said it was "awkward and uncomfortable" and he had never done the voice in front of a person, doing it alone in a dark room every time.

Dr. Phil told Tuiasosopo that he was "very skeptical" and just wanted the truth.

A lawyer for Tuiasosopo has claimed that Tuiasosopo used a falsetto voice to impersonate Te'o's fictitious girlfriend Lennay Kekua for two years.  The attorney has not responded to requests for comment from ABC News.

Te'o told ABC's Katie Couric that he doubted it was a man's voice he listened to all those hours and audio experts who reviewed voice emails from Kekua for ABC News concluded it was a woman talking.

Tuiasosopo initially refused to recreate the voice, but eventually agreed to do it behind a privacy screen.  That portion of the interview is scheduled to be shown during part two of the interview on Friday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan252013

Manti Te'o Listens to 'Girlfriend's' Voicemails with Katie Couric

Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Disney-ABC(NEW YORK) -- Manti Te'o listened Thursday on national television to taped phone calls from his fictitious girlfriend, including one in which "Lennay" was in a jealous fit and another telling him, "I love you so much."

As he was hearing the recordings, Te'o looked at interviewer Katie Couric and said, "Doesn't that sound like a girl?"

To this day, the star Notre Dame linebacker says he does not know who impersonated girlfriend Lennay Kekua for several years, including months of intense daily calls that sometimes lasted hours.

Listen to Manti Te'o's voicemails from "girlfriend" Lennay Kekua.

Couric asked Te'o in her exclusive interview whether Ronaiah Tuiasosopo -- who Te'o claims called him on Jan. 16 and confessed to engineering the hoax -- had impersonated the voice.  A lawyer for Tuiasosopo is quoted in the New York Daily News saying it was Tuiasosopo who impersonated Te'o's girlfriend.

"Well, it didn't sound like a man.  It sounded like a woman," Te'o said to Couric.  "If he somehow made that voice, that's incredible.  That's an incredible talent to do that, especially every single day."

Te'o, 21, has been alternately questioned and lampooned over his role in the hoax that led him and the public to believe that his girlfriend died of leukemia as Te'o led the Notre Dame football team to an undefeated season that culminated in the national championship game.  

The sympathetic story also surfaced as Te'o's name was being mentioned as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded to the best college football player in the country.  Te'o was eventually the runner-up for the award.

Te'o admitted that even he wondered early on if this girl was too good to be true and asked some of her friends about her and wanted to know if anyone had met her in person.

To his friend, identified only as Lyell, Te'o wrote in a Facebook message, "I was just wondering because it does seem kinda weird and so I was like wondering if it was something else pulling a prank or something."

The friend assured Te'o that she was not a "fake person."

"Since I didn't meet her and I didn't see her in person and she just seemed nice and from the pictures she seemed very beautiful, and I needed to find kind of somebody who knew her and supposedly met her and ask them, 'Hey, is this person real?'" Te'o said.

A skeptical Couric repeatedly pressed Te'o on some of the hoax's red flags.

"Are you that technologically challenged?" she asked him when he said video chats with Kekua never worked because of a so-called camera problem that only showed a black box where Kekua's face should have been.

"Either you are the most naïve person on the planet or this is the saddest story ever written," she said at another point in her exclusive interview.

When the football player explained that scheduling conflicts and other issues prevented him from visiting his "dying" girlfriend in the hospital, Couric said, "Manti, that just really doesn't make sense to me."

Rumors have swirled that perhaps the fake girlfriend was a cover for Te'o's sexuality.

"Are you gay?" Couric asked him.

"No.  Far from it.  Faaar from that," he said with a chuckle.

Te'o said he still doesn't know why he was the victim of a hoax that left him scared, confused and the butt of countless jokes.

Te'o says Tuiasosopo has spoken to him by Twitter and then in a phone call to confess to engineering the elaborate hoax, but gave little explanation for his actions.

"He just basically... explained what he did and why he did it," Te'o told Couric.  But he added, "He didn't say why [he did it].  He just explained that he wanted to help people and that was his way of helping people, of being someone that he wasn't..."

"Obviously, it didn't really help me out, but, you know, I didn't really say anything.  I was still speechless.  I just found out everything that I believed to be my reality wasn't actually reality at all," Te'o said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan232013

Manti Te'o Briefly Lied About Girlfriend After Hoax Discovery

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Manti Te'o says that even though he was hoaxed by the supposed existence of a fake girlfriend, his inspirational story of playing through emotional pain "was all real and that's something that I can't fake."

Te'o made his comments to Katie Couric during an exclusive interview set to air Thursday.

Te'o, 21, has been alternately questioned and lampooned over his role in the hoax that led him and the public to believe that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua died of leukemia as Te'o led the Notre Dame football team to an undefeated season that culminated in the national championship game.

Te'o was also a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, which goes to the best college football player in the country. Couric asked the star linebacker whether the emotional "story line" of a girlfriend who died on the same day as his grandmother "helped propel you to second place in Heisman voting?"

"I don't know. I really don't know," Te'o replied.

See more exclusive previews Wednesday night on ABC’s World News With Diane Sawyer and Nightline.

He was more certain, however, when Couric pressed him by pointing out that it had become "sort of a legend that you had endured this hardship and gone on to play your team and your school to victory... Did you feel like, wow, I'm getting a lot of attention for this?"

Te'o denied reveling in the attention.

Watch Katie Couric's interview with Manti Te'o and his parents Thursday on Katie. Check your local listings or click here for online station finder.

"I think for me the only thing I basked in was that I had an impact on people, that people turned to me and for inspiration and I think that was the only thing I focused on. You know my story I felt was a guy who in times of hardship and in times of trial really held strong to his faith, held strong to his family and I felt that that was my story," said Te'o, who is a Mormon.

Te'o said there was no acting in his emotions at the time when he thought the girl he called "Lala" had died of leukemia.

"What I went through was real. You know the feelings, the pain, the sorrow, that was all real and that's something that I can't fake," he said.

During the interview, Te'o said that he received a phone call on Dec. 6, apparently from the same woman he believed was dead, who told him she was alive. She said that her name was not Lennay Kekua, it was Leah. Te’o has also said that woman sent him a different picture of herself.

Nevertheless, he again publicly mentioned his girlfriend, and her death, two days later on the day the Heisman trophy was to be awarded.

"You stuck to the script. And you knew that something was amiss, Manti," Couric said.

"Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12," Te'o said.

"Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying that she's alive and then I'm going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?" Te'o said.

Te'o was joined by his parents, Brian and Ottilia, in the interview.

"Now many people writing about this are calling your son a liar. They are saying he manipulated the truth, really for personal gain," Couric said to Te'o's father.

"People can speculate about what they think he is. I've known him 21 years of his life. And he's not a liar. He's a kid," Brian Te'o said with tears in his eyes.

Diane O'Meara told NBC's Today show Tuesday that she was used as the "face" of the Twitter account of Manti Te'o's online girlfriend without her knowledge or consent. O'Meara said that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo used pictures of her without her knowledge in creating Kekua.

"I've never met Manti Te'o in my entire life. I've never spoke with him. I've never exchanged words with him," O'Meara said Tuesday.

The 23-year-old marketing executive went to high school in California with Tuiasosopo, but she says they're not close. Tuiasosopo called to apologize the day Deadspin.com broke the hoax story, she said.

In an interview with ESPN last week, Te'o said he had received a Twitter message from Tuiasosopo apologizing for the hoax.

The Hawaiian also spoke to Tuiasosopo on the phone the day the Deadspin report came out, according to ESPN. He found out that "two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing," he said.

But he did not know the identities of the other individuals involved, other than the man he says was Tuiasosopo.

Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old resident of California, has not admitted involvement publicly. Tuiasosopo graduated from Paraclete High School in Lancaster, Calif., in 2007 and has posted dozens of videos online singing Christian songs.

Those who knew him say he was a devout Christian and a good athlete. His former football coach Jon Flemming described him as gregarious, and from a "good loving family." Flemming said Tuiasosopo is the kind of guy who gives you a hug when he sees people he knows.

"He's doing good. Wishing everyone would go away," Flemming told ABC News Wednesday after a recent correspondence with Tuiasosopo.

Flemming said Tuiasosopo is "somebody I'd want my kid to grow up like. He's responsible, respectful, disciplined, dedicated."

Tessi Toluta'u, a Polynesian beauty queen, told ABC News this weekend that "Lennay Kekua" reached out to her in 2008 about entering pageants.

When visiting Los Angeles in 2009, Toluta'u was supposed to meet Kekua, but she failed to appear. Tuiasosopo met Toluta'u instead.

"[It's a] sick joke that went way too far," Toluta'u said.  

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan212013

Manti Te'o Was One of Several Duped in Hoax

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The man who allegedly orchestrated the Lennay Kekua hoax on Manti Te'o may have used the character to dupe other prominent members of the community, a source told ABC News.

Tessi Toluta'u, a Polynesian beauty queen, said the fake Lennay Kekua reached out to her in 2008 about entering pageants.  Although Toluta'u said she believed Kekua may have fabricated some details about her life, she still believed her to be real and kept in touch with her for a period of several months.

When visiting Los Angeles in 2009, Toluta'u was supposed to meet Kekua, however she failed to appear.  Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man who Te'o said confessed to the hoax, met Toluta'u instead.

They went to a Polynesian dance practice and lunch, and that was the end of their correspondence, she said.

"[It's a] sick joke that went way too far," she said.

Toluta'u said she believes Te'o was one of four or five people who were duped into believing Kekua was real.

The script for the elaborate hoax played on Te'o, from a horrific car accident to a leukemia diagnosis, according to reports, had parallels to the alleged perpetrator's life.

In December, three months after the fictional Kekua was killed off, the alleged orchestrator of the hoax, Tuiasoposo, called Te'o to confess it was all a sham, the Notre Dame football star told ESPN.

Also on the line, he said, was Kekua, the woman whom he spent hours talking to on the phone and once called the love of his life.

"They said, 'It's Lennay'.  And so we carried on that conversation and I just got mad.  And I just went on a rampage," Te'o said.

The woman, whose voice he fell asleep to at night on the phone, may have been a fabrication, but the alleged script used to fool Te'o seemed to mirror Tuiasoposo's reality.

Tuiasoposo's father posted on Facebook that his son and his band survived a severe car accident last March.

And at the same time the fake Kekua was diagnosed with leukemia, Tuiasoposo's cousin, Jazmine Lutu, also in her early 20s, was battling the disease, USA Today reported.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan202013

Manti Te'o Hoax Had Parallels to Alleged Perpetrator's Life

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The script for the elaborate hoax played on Manti Te'o, from a horrific car accident to a leukemia diagnosis, according to reports, had parallels to the alleged perpetrator's life.

In December, three months after the fictional Lennay Kekua was killed off, the alleged orchestrator of the hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasoposo, called Te'o to confess it was all a sham, the Notre Dame football star told ESPN.

Also on the line, he said, was Kekua, the woman whom he spent hours talking to on the phone and once called the love of his life.

"They said, 'It's Lennay'. And so we carried on that conversation and I just got mad. And I just went on a rampage," Te'o said.

The woman, whose voice he fell asleep to at night on the phone, may have been a fabrication, but the alleged script used to fool Te'o seemed to mirror Tuiasoposo's reality.

Tuiasoposo's father posted on Facebook that his son and his band survived a severe car accident last March.

And at the same time the fake Kekua was diagnosed with leukemia, Tuiasoposo's cousin, Jazmine Lutu, also in her early 20s, was battling the disease, USA Today reported.

The sophistication and the depth of the hoax, which was publicly unraveled last week, left many people with questions that are only beginning to be answered.

Te'o received phone calls, text messages and letters before every football game from his "girlfriend." He was in contact with her family, including a twin brother, a second brother, sister and parents. He called often to check in with them, just as he did with his own family. And "Kekua" kept in contact with Te'o's friends and family, and teammates spoke to her on the phone.

"There are a remarkable number of characters involved. We don't know how many people they represent," Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said at a news conference this week. "There are male and female characters, brothers, cousins, mother, and we don't know if it's two people playing multiple characters or multiple people."

"It goes to the sophistication of this, that there are all these sort of independent pieces that reinforce elements of the story all the way through," he said.

One of Te'o's teammates who asked not to be identified told ABC News that it was normal for Te'o to pass his phone around to teammates when he was on the line with "Lennay" so they could say hello to her.

"I talked to her," this teammate said. "I wasn't suspicious."

When Te'o got the call telling him that Lennay had died last fall, he was in the locker room, the teammate said.

"He got real emotional, crying," the teammate said. "He's an emotional guy."

The teammate said he thinks Te'o genuinely got hoaxed. The fact that Te'o talked about meeting her and touching her hand -- when really he only "met" her on the Internet -- makes this teammate think that he was not completely telling the truth about his relationship.

"I think he was just embarrassed about it, the whole Internet thing," the teammate said. The player said he hasn't talked to Te'o since this story broke.

In response to Te'o's comments that the investigators hired by the school never interviewed him, just asked for a picture and any evidence he had, Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown provides the following statement:

"Notre Dame engaged with a highly regarded investigative firm to, first and foremost, determine who had perpetrated what by all appearances was a hoax. The 'catfish' scheme and those responsible for it were discovered so quickly that there was no need for an interview with Manti - though that would have been the next step had nothing turned up. The investigators' work has been verified by media reports and the confession this week of the principal participant."

Brown said that the investigators started their work on Jan. 2 and on Jan. 4 and the school received an oral report with the information on the "catfish" scheme and the perpetrators.

"Catfish" movie director and actor Ariel Schulman told "Good Morning America" that he believes there may have been "a few other people duped by the fake Lennay character."

Te'o at first kept a low-profile after the news of the scandal broke. But he has since released a statement calling the situation "incredibly embarrassing" and granted an interview to ESPN. ABC News' Katie Couric will conduct the first on-camera interview with Manti Te'o for her syndicated daytime talk show, "Katie," on Jan. 24.

 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jan192013

Manti Te'o Denies 'Faking It' in Girlfriend Hoax, Admits He 'Tailored' Story

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- While Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o told ESPN that he "wasn't faking it" when he talked about his love for a woman who now appears to be part of an elaborate hoax involving an online relationship with a fictional girlfriend, he acknowledged that he had crafted stories about the woman he had called the love of his life.

Te'o admitted to a few mistakes in his own conduct, including telling his father he met "Lennay Kekua" in Hawaii even though his attempt to meet her actually failed. Later retellings of that tale led to inconsistencies in media reports, Te'o said, adding that he never actually met Kekua in person.

Te'o explained that he feared people would think it was crazy for him to be involved with someone that he never met, so, "I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away."

Te'o said he only learned for sure this week that he had been duped.

"When they hear the facts, they'll know," Te'o told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap in his first interview since the story broke. "They'll know that there is no way that I could be a part of this."

On Wednesday, Te'o received a Twitter message, allegedly from a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, apologizing for the hoax, Te'o told Schaap.

The sports website Deadspin, which first revealed the hoax this week, has reported that Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old of Samoan descent who lives in Antelope Valley, Calif., asked a woman he knew for her photo and that photo became the face of Kekua's Twitter account.

Te'o told Schaap that Tuiasosopo was represented to him as Kekua's cousin.

"I hope he learns," Te'o said of Tuiasosopo, according to coverage of the interview on ESPN.com. "I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."

The relationship got started on Facebook during his freshman year, Te'o said.

"My relationship with Lennay wasn't a four-year relationship," Te'o said, according to ESPN.com. "There were blocks and times and periods in which we would talk and then it would end."

He showed Schaap Facebook correspondence indicating that other people knew of Kekua -- though Te'o now believes they, too, were tricked.

The relationship became more intense, Te'o said, after he received a call that Kekua was in a coma following a car accident involving a drunk driver on April 28.

Soon, Te'o and Kekua became inseparable over the phone, he said, continuing their phone conversations through her recovery from the accident, and then during her alleged battle against leukemia.

Even so, Te'o never tried to visit Kekua at her hospital in California.

"It never really crossed my mind," he said, according to ESPN.com. "I don't know. I was in school."

But the communication between the two was intense. They even had ritual where they discussed scripture every day, Te'o said. His parents also participated via text message, and Te'o showed Schaap some of the texts.

On Sept. 12, a phone caller claiming to be Kekua's relative told Te'o that Kekua had died of leukemia, Te'o said. However, on Dec. 6, Te'o said he got a call allegedly from Kekua saying she was alive. He said he was utterly confused and did not know what to believe.

ESPN's 2 1/2-hour interview was conducted in Bradenton, Fla., with Te'o's lawyer present but without video cameras. Schaap said Te'o was composed, comfortable and in command, and that he said he didn't want to go on camera to keep the setting intimate and avoid a big production.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan182013

Manti Te'o's Fake Girlfriend May Have Duped Others

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend "Lennay Kekua" may have hoaxed other unsuspecting suitors.

Catfish movie director and actor Ariel Schulman told ABC's Good Morning America on Friday that he believes there may have been "a few other people duped by the fake Lennay character."

Schulman and his brother Nev Schulman have been looking into the elaborate scam and claim to be corresponding with various players involved.  They have come to believe that there were "a lot of other people that she was corresponding with before and maybe even during her relationship [with Te'o]."

Nev was the subject of the 2010 movie Catfish, which spawned the TV series, because he himself was sucked in by an Internet pretender -- or a "catfish" -- who built an elaborate fake life.

As questions mount about Te'o's possible role in the complex scam, the number one question is whether Te'o was unknowingly ensnared, as he says, or whether he was complicit in the scam.

"I stand by the guy.  My heart goes out to him," Ariel said.  His brother has reached out to Te'o, but has not heard back.

"He had his heart broken," Ariel said.  "He was grieving for someone, whether she existed or not.  Those were real feelings."

Te'o has kept a low-profile since the news of the scandal broke.  He released a statement calling the situation "incredibly embarrassing" and maintaining that he was a victim of a hoax.

He was captured briefly by news cameras on Thursday at a Florida training facility, but has not spoken publicly.

As for the woman whose photo was used as the face of Lennay Kekua, Inside Edition has identified her as Diane O'Meara who is very much alive.  The show caught up with her on Thursday, but she declined to comment.

ABC News' legal analyst Dan Abrams said that O'Meara may be the one person in the scandal with the power to sue since her likeness was taken and used without her permission.

As for Te'o, even if he knew about the deception, it appears that he did not do anything illegal.

"He's allowed to lie to the public.  He's allowed to lie to the media.  He's not allowed to lie to the authorities," Abrams said on Good Morning America.

Questions also remain about the timeline of events and when Te'o discovered that the "love of his life," as he called her, was nothing more than a fake Internet persona.

According to Notre Dame's timeline of events, Te'o learned his girlfriend didn't exist on Dec. 6.  

But in a Dec. 8 interview with South Bend, Ind., TV station WSBT, Te'o said, "I really got hit with cancer.  I lost both my grandparents an my girlfriend to cancer."  And on Dec. 11, he talked about his girlfriend in a newspaper interview.

Te'o alerted Notre Dame on Dec. 26 about the scam, the university said.

Skeptics have also cited comments by Te'o's father, Brian Te'o, who told a newspaper how Kekua used to visit his son in Hawaii.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the university launched their own investigation.

"Our investigators, through their work, were able to discover online chatter between the perpetrators," Swarbrick said at a Wednesday news conference.  "That was sort of the ultimate proof."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan172013

Notre Dame Football Star Manti Te'o Says Dead "Girlfriend" Was Hoaxer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Notre Dame's athletic director and the star of its near-championship football team said the widely-reported death of the star's girlfriend from leukemia during the 2012 football season was apparently a hoax, and the player said he was duped by it as well.

Manti Te'o, who led the Fighting Irish to the BCS championship game this year and finished second for the Heisman Trophy, said in a statement Wednesday that he fell in love with a girl online last year who turned out not to be real.

The university's athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, said it has been investigating the "cruel hoax" since Te'o approached officials in late December to say he believed he had been tricked.

 

Private investigators hired by the university subsequently monitored online chatter by the alleged perpetrators, Swarbrick said, adding that he was shocked by the "casual cruelty" it revealed.

"They enjoyed the joke," Swarbrick said, comparing the ruse to the popular film "Catfish," in which filmmakers revealed a person at the other end of an online relationship was not who they said they were.

"While we still don't know all of the dimensions of this ... there are certain things that I feel confident we do know," Swarbrick said. "The first is that this was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax, perpetrated for reasons we don't understand."

Te'o said during the season that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia in September on the same day Te'o's grandmother died, triggering an outpouring of support for Te'o at Notre Dame and in the media.

"While my grandma passed away and you take, you know, the love of my life [Kekua]. The last thing she said to me was, 'I love you,'" Te'o said at the time, noting that he had talked to Kekua on the phone and by text message until her death.

Now, responding to a story first reported by the sports website Deadspin, Te'o has acknowledged that Kekua never existed. The website reported Wednesday that there were no records of a woman named Lennay Kekua anywhere.

Te'o denied that he was in on the hoax.

"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her."

Swarbrick said he expected Te'o to give his version of events at a public event soon, perhaps Thursday, and that he believed Te'o's representatives were planning to disclose the truth next week until Wednesday's story broke.

Deadspin reported that the image attached to Kekua's social media profiles, through which the pair interacted, was of another woman who has said she did not even know Te'o or know that her picture was being used. The website reported that it traced the profiles to a California man who is an acquaintance of Te'o and of the woman whose photo was stolen.

"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," Te'o said.

According to Notre Dame, Te'o and his family came forward to the university with concerns that Te'o had been the victim of a hoax in December 2012.

"On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te'o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name, Lennay Kekua, apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," the university said in a statement released Wednesday.

"The university immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax," it said. "While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."

Though the university's statement may have implied that it referred the matter to outside authorities, Swarbrick later said that the university had only hired a private investigator and not notified the NCAA or law enforcement.

"There's no factual predicate for an NCAA violation that we could find," he said.

"And no, we did not refer this to criminal authorities," he added. "We believe it's the victim's decision to make."

Te'o is currently preparing for the NFL draft, according to his statement.

"There's a lot of tragedy here, there's a lot of sorrow here," Swarbrick said.

"But the thing I am most sad of is--" he added, pausing to apologize and wipe away tears, is "that the single most trusting human being I have ever met will never be able to trust in the same way ever again."

 

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