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Te'o provides answers, but more may be asked

By Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:52 p.m. HST, Jan 22, 2013


NEW YORK »NEW YORK (AP) — Manti Te'o tried to put one of the strangest sports stories in memory behind him, insisting he was the target of an elaborate online hoax in which he fell for a fake woman created by pranksters, then admitting his own lies made the bizarre ordeal worse.

Whether his off-camera interview with ESPN was enough to demonstrate that the Notre Dame star linebacker was a victim in the scheme instead of a participant is still an open question.

The most important judges of the All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist may be pro football teams. Te'o has finished his coursework at Notre Dame and is preparing for the NFL draft at an elite training facility in Florida, where the 2½-hour interview was conducted late Friday night.

ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap said that the 21-year-old Te'o answered all his questions in a calm voice, and tried to clear up the mysteries and inconsistencies of the case.

Among the highlights:

— Te'o denied being in on the hoax. "No. Never," he said. "I wasn't faking it. I wasn't part of this."

— Te'o provided a timeline and details of his relationship with Lennay Kekua, his virtual sweetheart, who went through an array of medical calamities before "dying" of Leukemia in September, just hours after Te'o got real news of his grandmother's death.

— He acknowledged that he lied to his father about meeting Kekua in person, then exacerbated the situation after her supposed death when he "tailored" his comments to reporters to make it sound as if their relationship was more than just phone calls and electronic messages.

"I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet, and that alone — people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn't meet her, as well," Te'o said. "So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn't think that I was some crazy dude."

In the same part of the conversation, Te'o said: "Out of this whole thing, that is my biggest regret. And that is the biggest, I think, that's from my point of view, that is a mistake I made."

— He detailed the confusing phone conversation he had on Dec. 6, when the woman who was posing as Kekua contacted him and told him one last hard-to-believe story about how she had to fake her own death to evade drug dealers. Te'o said it left him piecing together what exactly was going on over the next few days, when he was bouncing from interview to interview while taking part in the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York on Dec. 8 and another awards dinner in Los Angeles the next night. He mentioned his girlfriend in interviews at least three times over that period.

— Even after he went to his parents, coaches and Notre Dame officials with the story by Dec. 26, and the school provided an investigation that it says corroborated Te'o's version by Jan. 4, the player told ESPN that it was not until Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance who lives in California, contacted him Wednesday and confessed to the prank, that he finally believed Kekua was not real. Schaap said that Te'o showed him direct messages from Twitter in which Tuiasosopo admitted to masterminding the hoax and apologized.

Schaap remarked to Te'o earlier in the interview that he still talked about Lennay as if she existed.

"Well, in my mind I still don't have answers," Te'o replied. "I'm still wondering what's going on, what happened."

Tuiasosopo has not spoken publicly since Deadspin.com broke the news of the hoax on Wednesday and identified him as being heavily involved.

At the Tuiasosopo house in Palmdale, Calif., the family did not answer the door Saturday. At the Tuiasosopo house in Palmdale, Calif., the family did not answer the door Saturday. The AP learned Saturday through public records and interviews that Ronaiah was once a resident at a house in Carson, Calif., where Te'o had flowers delivered to after Kekua "died." His relatives have owned and lived in the house for decades and a family named Kekua lives down the street.

Whether Tuiasosopo ultimately confirms Te'o's version of the story will go a long way toward determining where this saga is headed.

In the interview with ESPN, Te'o implied that he was not holding a grudge against Tuiasosopo.

"I hope he learns," Te'o said. "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."

Te'o was the emotional leader and best player on a Notre Dame team that went from unranked to playing for the program's first national championship since 1988. And Te'o's tale of inspired play while dealing with a double-dose of tragedy became the theme of the Irish's unexpected rise and undefeated regular season.

Not until Te'o and the Irish faced Alabama in the BCS championship did the good times end. The Crimson Tide won in a 42-14 rout on Jan. 7, the hoax was then exposed and suddenly the dream season was tarnished.

So far no law enforcement agencies have indicated they are pursuing a criminal case in the scam, and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a news conference earlier this week said the university was going to leave it up to Te'o and his family to pursue legal action.

Bennett Kelly, founder of the Internet Law Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said a criminal case of fraud against the perpetrators probably wouldn't work because it appears they took nothing of value (money or other items) from Te'o. The player said at one point the fake girlfriend asked for his checking account number but he declined.

A civil suit would be difficult as well, Kelley said.

"It's not as easy as it's often portrayed," Kelley said. "The context has to be outrageous. There usually has to be some kind of physical manifestation. It can't just be that it was a bummer."

Swarbrick said from the start that it didn't seem as if laws were broken or NCAA rules violated. He had publicly encouraged Te'o to give his side of the story.

"Manti put this to rest for me and the University long ago," Swarbrick said in a text message to the AP on Saturday. "I am just glad that everyone (at least everyone open to the facts) now knows what we have long known — that a great young man was the innocent victim of a very cruel hoax."

While fans and the members of the media might not be satisfied with where Te'o has left it, he won't necessarily be compelled to answer to them — just to potential employers starting in February.

At the NFL combine, Te'o will have his physical skills and fitness tested, and he will be interviewed by NFL executives and coaches. He has been projected as a potential first-round draft pick. If his involvement in this hoax sets off red flags for teams and it causes him to slip in April's draft, it could cost him millions of dollars.

Said former Dallas Cowboys general manager and NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt: "Between now and 97 days from now when the draft comes, there'll be a lot of people investigating just what took place."

___

Associated Press Writers Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles and Justin Pritchard in Carson, Calif. contributed.

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, the Associated Press reported erroneously some of the details about the place where Te'o says he sent flowers after he was told by pranksters that his girlfriend had died. The home was in Carson, Calif., not Palmdale, and was once the home of the alleged mastermind of the hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, not a family named Kekua. A family named Kekua does live down the street from the Tuiasosopos in Carson.

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livinginhawaii wrote:
Who cares? Ya'all need to move on with your lives. Continue to read and believe the hotsheets....MIB
on January 19,2013 | 09:51AM
allie wrote:
agree...the entire embarrassment is a bore
on January 19,2013 | 10:54AM
fishwrider wrote:
Yet you continue to comment on every story about it. TROLL ALERT
on January 19,2013 | 02:40PM
Nevadan wrote:
I heard allie fired you. Why are you still working?
on January 19,2013 | 03:46PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Nothing to see here. Questions answered. Move along people.
on January 19,2013 | 10:03AM
Nalukai wrote:
Then what are you doing here ? Move along Nanakuleboss !
on January 19,2013 | 11:24AM
fishwrider wrote:
LOL!!!!!
on January 19,2013 | 02:43PM
Keith_Rollman wrote:
Time for the media vultures to leave the kid alone.
on January 19,2013 | 10:11AM
bsdetection wrote:
Media vultures? This feeble-minded publicity hound and his school milked this story for every line of coverage they could get out of it. He lied to his family, and even after he was told that it was a hoax, he kept lying.
on January 19,2013 | 10:56AM
fishwrider wrote:
bitter much? that's ok, if ragging on people who matter more than you ever will makes you feel better go for it!!!!!!
on January 19,2013 | 02:44PM
Nevadan wrote:
We put Manti on an internet trial. Did he (1) kill someone?, (2) hurt anyone?, (3) DUI?, (4) cheat someone, and (5) fail to meet media's expectation? Judgement: He is guilty of one out of five!
on January 19,2013 | 10:18AM
niceynicey wrote:
Read somewhere on Internet that some student organization at ND started some fundraising campaign in Lennay Kekua's name. I am no legal expert but if donations were collected in tthe name of this imaginary person, wouldn't that be fraud?
on January 19,2013 | 10:43AM
allie wrote:
could be..nobody looks good in this fiasco
on January 19,2013 | 10:55AM
fishwrider wrote:
I thought this story was a "bore" to you. Why keep commenting, sir?
on January 19,2013 | 02:45PM
Nevadan wrote:
I thought allie fired you. Why are you still working?
on January 19,2013 | 03:49PM
64hoo wrote:
they said no its not fraud because they are still taking donations to help people with cancer according to the fundraiser chairman they still are taking donations for people with cancer. so the fundraising still goes on for people who want to donate money.
on January 19,2013 | 02:16PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Always believe the Internet. It's all true.niceynicey........all true, all true.........
on January 19,2013 | 09:09PM
Nevadan wrote:
He is only guilty of not meeting media's expectation.
on January 19,2013 | 10:50AM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
It wasn't the media who invented the lie about meeting the fake girl and calling her his girlfriend. It was Te'o.
on January 19,2013 | 02:57PM
fishwrider wrote:
Nevadan is confused. give him a pass.
on January 19,2013 | 03:54PM
koji wrote:
no but he is a public figure who used the lie to his advantage and allowed people to believe what he was saying
on January 19,2013 | 11:16AM
Nevadan wrote:
To his advantage? How, pray tell?
on January 19,2013 | 12:46PM
fishwrider wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on January 19,2013 | 02:42PM
Nevadan wrote:
Did Allie fire you as her biographer? Can't blame her.
on January 19,2013 | 03:20PM
blackmurano wrote:
Manti Teo when he graduated from Punahou, Hawaii Warriors offered him a scholarship to play for his home State of Hawaii. He probably said, "Thanks, but no thanks." He snubbed Hawaii for a mainland school Notre Dame. Teo didn't have the courtesy to visit the manoa campus. This was a completely snubbed on our Warrior football team. As a loyal fan, I don't give a damm or interested in reading the situation he is going through. Those type of news is good for his new home state fans in Notre Dame. He snubbed Hawaii, so Hawaii fans should snubbed this kid.
on January 19,2013 | 10:42AM
mcc wrote:
Given his choices, I would advise my son to do the same. Hawaii fans should support him, he represents us!
on January 19,2013 | 11:23AM
toshio1278 wrote:
how can anyone fault manti for choosing ND over uh? punahou grads are expected to continue their education at prestigious mainland universities. when a school like ND offers you a full ride you don't turn it down for uh. maybe stanford, duke, ucla, cal, northwestern, harvard, yale. manti had to think of life after football. btw i think manti is completely complicit in this ordeal. there is no way in hell a punahou and ND grad can be that dumb. furthermore, why would a charasmatic and good looking kid like manti need to find love on the internet. he was an absolute god at ND. any girl there would've killed to be his gf. it simply does not add up. and his espn interview was a complete joke. jeremy schaap should be ashamed of himself. his journalistic credentials should be questioned. schaap should've allowed manti to read a prepared statement and call it a day because thts basically what occurred in this "hard hitting" interview.
on January 19,2013 | 12:49PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
"I hope he learns," Te'o said. "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."

This quote is the most revealing of all. What i hear from this is: "How dare u blame it on me? I am a Punahou graduate of 2009. I am a Notre Dame graduate of 2013. I am the best of the best. I am just like Barack Obama, i cannot be topped." Well this tells me Manti that u r not a humble person. u need to own up to ur mistakes. Just because u had completed your course work at Notre Dame does not signify that u will be "Master of the Universe", as was in the infamous Star Trek episode of 1968 named "Whom Gods Destroy" with Yvonne Craig.


on January 19,2013 | 11:11AM
mcc wrote:
Why are all of you so envious of people who geta good education.That only shows your ignorance.
on January 19,2013 | 11:24AM
Wardog wrote:
Yes honoluluhawaii sounds like a crybaby idi@t...
on January 19,2013 | 11:40AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
So did u graduate from Punahou??
on January 19,2013 | 12:18PM
Wardog wrote:
What does it matter? Crybaby...
on January 19,2013 | 04:55PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
An uneducated republican.
on January 19,2013 | 08:23PM
Nalukai wrote:
The one person who needs to man-up and "learn" from this is TE'O. He's the one who got out-foxed ! end -game !
on January 19,2013 | 11:27AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Equal is the score. Tied like maybe 37 to 37. Almost like the Stanford game where the runner looked like he scored. That was luck on the Irish side. Finally all the chickens came to roost on December 26, 2012, of all the days, the most famous of the days that The Fighting Irish is noted for, December 25th, and the day after, Manti decides to go public with his assertions. It was not enough that he knew himself that he got duped in private. Manti had to go public and report this "incident" to Notre Dame, which psychologically speaking was on the minds of The Fighting Irish on the night of The BCS Championship Game. Who to blame? First blame the media for wanting to publish a sensational PEOPLE magazine type of story in the Headlines, including PTI, Pardon The Interruption on ESPN with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. Next Manti. Third, Tuiasosopo.
on January 19,2013 | 12:31PM
kekai03 wrote:
We warn our children about the dangers of chatting, posting, and meeting people on the internet. People can get caught up in the fantasy of online relationships. Watch MTV's Catfish. Look at the political "leaders"" who mistakenly post or tweet sexual photos or posts meant for private viewing/reading but inadvertently public posting. These kinds of things have been going on longer than people reailize. Look at the dating.com, match.com sites that are thriving. Couple of friends have met online, married, and remain happily married...while I know of people who met their online "soul mates"only to find out that the person had posted younger version photos of themselves or lied. Do not judge Manti...but there is Google, where you can just google a name, photo, or even lines from a student's essay and names, dob, FB and My Space accounts, and source of student plagiarism pops up. If you've ever something online, gone to classmates.com, hotmail, etc. nothing is sacred.
on January 19,2013 | 11:38AM
niimi wrote:
Don't be ANTI-MANTI.
on January 19,2013 | 12:45PM
niimi wrote:
manti - v. to pull a mean hoax on someone. I want to manti him to teach him a lesson. mantied. v. to be duped by a hoax. I was mantied by my brother last year.
on January 19,2013 | 12:46PM
hsk wrote:
Swinging from the other side of the plate. No that there is anything wrong with that. Integrity says a lot about one's character.
on January 19,2013 | 01:05PM
HOSSANA wrote:
Manti's story is just full of CRAP!! Its actually a laughter and when he talks about the girl saying she faked her death because of drug dealers, I had tears in my eyes laughing so much. The whole point of the matter is not that Manti was a victim of the hoax but he took advantage of the press or media letting them perpetuate this lie to his advantage thus enhancing his image and legacy which definitely, definitely, played an influence in him winning all the football awards. Nothing more and nothing less and he should be held accountable for his actions.
on January 19,2013 | 01:25PM
HOSSANA wrote:
Manti's story is a laughter and so full of phony declarations but the bottom line is that he should be held accountable for allowing the press to perpetuate this hoax to his advantage which enhanced his image and legacy.
on January 19,2013 | 01:26PM
HOSSANA wrote:
he is a public figure who used the lie to his advantage and allowed people to believe what he was saying from late September to when the hoax was going to be revealed on Dec. 26. he is a phony and his story is a laugher so full of phony declarations and statements but the biggest one is that his online g.f. said that she was hiding from drug dealers..ha..ha...give me a break.
on January 19,2013 | 01:36PM
allie wrote:
he is and always was a joke
on January 19,2013 | 01:40PM
toshio1278 wrote:
to say he was 'always' a joke is not true at all. his performance against alabama was certainly a joke. this whole gf didn't exist debacle makes him a present day joke. time will tell if the's a joke in the future.
on January 19,2013 | 01:50PM
fishwrider wrote:
TROLL ALERT
on January 19,2013 | 02:39PM
toshio1278 wrote:
*he's*
on January 19,2013 | 01:51PM
inverse wrote:
This story is NOT about some guy from Hawaii or that is he is of Samoan ancestry or that he went to Punahou. The story is that here is someone who had EVERYTHING going his way but he let his arrogance and ego get the better of him and now that he has been caught in a massive lie and deception, he needs to take personal responsibility and just STOP making excuses by him, his family and his media consultants. He needs to publicly say in front of the whole world, I skr ewed up and I am terribly sorry for my actions. By creating these stories it makes Teo look more foolish, incompetent and ignorant in the eyes of everyone, including NFL teams who are pondering whether they want this guy on their team. The last thing the NFL wants to hear is for him to say the situation of the fake girlfriend was the reason why he did not play well against Alabama. If Teo thought the psychological pressure was too great for him as a college player at ND, it will be ten times worse in the NFL and teams will come to the rightful conclusion that Teo might have what it physically takes to make it in the NFL, he does not have the psychological and emotional capacity to make it in the NFL and help win games for the team. Also NFL teams need to appeal to a broad audience beyond rabid diehard fans so if the average fan or viewer personally dislikes Teo they way most people currently feel about Tiger, it will hurt the teams bottom line and they won't waste their money on Teo. The moral in this whole story is don't just PRETEND to be humble and honest, ACTUALLY be humble and honest, even when everyone around you has put you on a pedestal and treat you like some king or god. What he is experiencing right now is his punishment for thinking that he was some king or god who could play the public like some fool for his own personal benefit. Just take the punishment and move on.
on January 19,2013 | 02:12PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
My comment at 11:11AM is an echo of your thoughts.
on January 19,2013 | 02:56PM
fishwrider wrote:
bitter much? too wordy. Grade: F
on January 19,2013 | 03:57PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Please watch the video that accompanies this story. As they say, a picture tells a thousand words. Confucius now needs a modern enhancement. A video tells a zillion words. Not much of the accompanying story said anything except a rehashment of what has been going on since the beginning. The video, which is more or less an audio interview, which some of us from the 1970s can appreciate, along with Schaap's narration, tells much much more than what we can grasp from the article itself.
on January 19,2013 | 02:52PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Please watch the video that accompanies this story. As they say, a picture tells a thousand words. Confucius now needs a modern enhancement. A video tells a zillion words. Not much of the accompanying story said anything except a rehashment of what has been going on since the beginning. The video, which is more or less an audio interview, which some of us from the 1970s can appreciate, along with Schaap's narration, tells much much more than what we can grasp from the article itself.
on January 19,2013 | 02:52PM
Loki wrote:
This guy isn't a criminal, but he is guilty of being full of it. Case closed.
on January 19,2013 | 04:35PM
whaole wrote:
Once again . . . we all have to accept the fact that we are just as vulnerable as the next -- including Manti Te'o. BUT, what law has Manti broken? As this article seems to indicate, if Manti's story is correct he and his family are the only ones affected enough to consider filing law suits . . . not the general public. Again, Manti has proven his scholastic and athletic abilities to be worthy for consideration towards a lucrative career with NFL and beyond. So, why are we believing its OK to continue making a stupid and embarrassing situation worse for himi? We have reduced ourselves to be no better then the paparrazzi who chased down and caused the horrific death of Princess Diana. Is that what it will take before we get off this invasive inquiry with Manti Te'o. I hope not. I hope we have the decency to leave him alone and move on with our own lives.
on January 19,2013 | 05:36PM
false wrote:
cuz he LIED and was a heisman runner up
on January 19,2013 | 08:02PM
entrkn wrote:
Never mind Teo, he betrayed Hawaii... pay attention to the players and teams in Hawaii... Teo doesn't mean anything to us but our teams and players do.
on January 19,2013 | 08:37PM
niimi wrote:
I'm wondering if Te'o's GF is Mormon or just a more on?
on January 19,2013 | 09:10PM
niimi wrote:
Typical arrogance from a Punahou graduate.
on January 19,2013 | 09:12PM
avius808 wrote:
Its shocking that there is some much coverage on a silly story which can be sensationalized and full of drama, yet Lance Armstrong did really unethical, immoral things and lied in every way to every denizen on our earth. Yet a naive boy is a much more concerning issue.
on January 19,2013 | 10:57PM
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