Manti Te’o has told family and friends that the woman who was the voice of his fictitious girlfriend “Lennay Kekua” called him in December and said she had to fake her own death months earlier to elude drug dealers, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has learned.
The woman, who has yet to be identified, tried to re-engage a relationship with Te‘o months after she supposedly had died of leukemia in early September, the Notre Dame All-American linebacker has told the people close to him. The account was shared with the Star-Advertiser by a source close to the Te‘o family.
According to the account, Te’o asked the woman to transmit a photo to him with a date stamp, which she did, but this did not allay his suspicions and he later told his family and Notre Dame officials about being scammed.
The account does not give the date of the call but on Wednesday Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told a campus press conference that the woman contacted Te’o on Dec. 6 while he was in Florida for an ESPN post-season 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.”
On Dec. 26, Te’o notified school officials, according to a statement from Te‘o Wednesday.
Subsequently Notre Dame commissioned an investigation that concluded Te’o had been the victim of a hoax, the school said.
In his statement, Te‘o said he was embarrassed to acknowledge that he was the victim “of what apparently was someone’s sick joke and constant lies,” a hoax in which he had a long-distance online and phone relationship with a fictitious woman, whom he knew as Lennay Kekua.
However, Te’o has yet to address questions about statements he made to the press about her death from cancer after Dec. 6.
The bizarre case became national news after the website deadspin.com published a story Wednesday that Kekua did not exist. The story of Te‘o playing through the pain of having his grandmother and girlfriend die within 24 hours of each other became a major narrative in Notre Dame’s storybook 2012 season. With Te‘o as a team captain, the Fighting Irish had a 12-0 regular season and lost in the championship game to Alabama on Jan. 7.
The new details on the December phone call come on the heels of a report earlier today by ESPN which quoted a woman who said the California man allegedly behind the girlfriend hoax had admitted to her that he and his cousins had duped Te‘o, a 2009 Punahou School graduate from Laie.
The woman told the ESPN show “Outside the Lines” that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo of California cried when he admitted to her in December that he was involved in the scam. ESPN did not identify the woman at her request but described her as in her 20s and a church friend of Tuiasosopo.
“He (Ronaiah) told me Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. The girlfriend was a lie; the accident was a lie; the leukemia was a lie,” the woman told ESPN. “He was crying; he was literally crying. He’s like ‘I know, I know what I have to do.'”
She added, “It is not only Manti, but he was telling me that it is a lot of other people they had done this to.”
Outside the Lines interviewed two others who said they had family members who had a similar hoax played on them by Tuiasosopo.
The deadspin.com story identified Tuiasosopo as the man behind the scheme, but also raised questions about whether or not Te’o was a willing participant in the hoax.
Notre Dame’s Swarbrick, meanwhile, said Friday he has strongly encouraged the Te’o family to speak publicly. Except for the brief written statement Wednesday following the deadspin.com report, the family has not commented. A planned one-on-one interview Thursday with Te’o was scrubbed.
Meanwhile, several TV sites, 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.
O’Meara was not at her Torrance, Calif., office Friday. Messages left on her voice mail were not immediately returned to the Star-Advertiser.