'There is no way I could be a part of this'
Jan 19, 2013 (The Honolulu Star-Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Manti Te'o denied being part of the hoax surrounding his fictional girlfriend and said the alleged leader of the scam, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, apologized to him, ESPN reported Friday night.
During a 21/2-hour, off-camera interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap on Friday, Te'o broke a two-day silence since Deadspin.com first reported the hoax Wednesday.
The interview took place at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where the Notre Dame All-America linebacker is preparing for next month's NFL Scouting Combine.
ESPN and Schaap, whose report first appeared on "SportsCenter" at 7:45 p.m., presented only some still photographs and limited sound bites from the interview, per the agreement between Te'o and the network. The session apparently took place in a conference room. Another person in the room was not identified.
Schaap said, "He (Te'o) was not fully convinced that Lennay Kekua did not exist until two days ago, when he heard from Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is reported to be the person behind this hoax. Manti Te'o told me that Tuiasosopo called him two days ago and told him that he was behind the hoax and he apologized."
Schaap said he was shown Twitter messages "apparently from Tuiasosopo apologizing for perpetrating this hoax on him, embarrassing him, etc."
ESPN quoted Te'o as saying, "I wasn't faking it. I wasn't part of this (scam)."
Asked if he was ever part of the plot, ESPN said Te'o responded, "No, never. Never, not ever."
ESPN.com said the Laie native maintained "he did not make up anything to help his Heisman Trophy candidacy." It quoted Te'o as saying, "When (people) hear the facts, they'll know. They'll know that there is no way that I could be part of this."
ESPN said Te'o claimed to have "lied to his father about having met Kekua, prompting his father to tell reporters that the two had met." Te'o insisted the two never met, according to ESPN.
Te'o said he "tried to speak with Kekua via Skype and FaceTime on several occasions, but the person at the other end of the line was in what he called a 'black box' and wasn't seen," ESPN asserted.
The network said Te'o claimed "the first time he met Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was after Notre Dame beat USC on Nov. 24."
Earlier Friday, ESPN's "Outside The Lines" reported Tuiasosopo called a church friend last month crying and admitted to duping Te'o. The person, a woman in her mid-20s, was not identified.
Schaap said Te'o told him the relationship with the person he believed to be Kekua began on Facebook his sophomore year at Notre Dame and grew following the 2011 Purdue game.
"What Manti Te'o told me was after he gets this phone call on Dec. 6 and somebody says I'm alive, I'm Lennay (Kekua) and I'm alive, he's utterly confused. He doesn't know whether to believe this person or not," Schaap said.
In addition, Schaap said, "He told some story about how she's been in hiding from drug dealers. And I know it sounds fantastical, but you have to believe me that he is very convincing the way that he lays this out."
The Star-Advertiser reported earlier Friday that Te'o told family and friends that the woman who was the voice of Kekua phoned him in December and said she had to fake her own death to elude drug dealers.
The woman, who has yet to be identified, tried to reignite a relationship after she supposedly had died of leukemia in early September, Te'o 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 was suspicious and asked the woman to transmit a photo to him with a date stamp, which she did. But that did not allay his suspicions, and Te'o 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 postseason 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 on Wednesday. Subsequently Notre Dame commissioned an investigation that concluded Te'o had been the victim of a hoax, the school said.
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