Ronaiah Tuiasosopo fell in love with Manti Te’o and said all his energy went into pretending to be the woman the Notre Dame linebacker came to know as Lennay Kekua.
Tuiasosopo, the 22-year-old mastermind of the elaborate hoax that embarrassed Te’o and left him looking gullible, spoke publicly for the first time in an interview with Phil McGraw for the "Dr. Phil" show, the first part of which aired Thursday.
Tuiasosopo said Te’o knew nothing of the scam, and doesn’t believe he ever suspected Kekua was fake.
"He had no involvement," Tuiasosopo said. "He did not know anything."
Tuiasosopo said he built the online persona of Kekua, a nonexistent woman with whom Te’o said he fell in love despite never meeting. Tuiasosopo then killed off the character in September.
"I pretty much had this escape of Lennay, and this was where my heart had pretty much invested, not just time, but all of my energy went into this," Tuiasosopo said.
He said he felt Kekua was a part of him, and grew feelings and emotions for Te’o that he could not control. He acknowledged that the hoax was cruel, but said it was never intended as a joke and that he got no money from it.
"As twisted and confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person," he said, referring to Te’o. "I did all that I could to help this person become a better person, even though I wasn’t getting nothing out of it."
Tuiasosopo said he felt Te’o became a better person as a result of the relationship.
"If you really look at all his interviews, he felt that," he said. "When he was under the understanding that he lost her, he realized all the good that Lennay had done for him."
The Te’o family declined comment.
Tuiasosopo said he decided to confess to Te’o earlier last month as the hoax was unraveling because he felt he could not go any further with his own life until the truth was out.
"You’ve heard of recovering drug addicts? It takes a lot of courage to stand and say that," he said. "To recover from homosexuality and this type of thing. Not only that, coming back to your real life, as hard as a task as that is, I’m going to do all that I can to live right."
Tuiasosopo said he decided to kill the Kekua character following an argument with the football star.
Te’o had told Kekua he didn’t need her, Tuiasosopo said.
"It hurt me," he said. "It hit me like a brick wall. I was like, ‘Whoa, I’ve given so much into this.’ And I realized right then in that moment that I poured so much into Lennay that I myself was getting nothing, and look what I was left with."