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Manti Te'o maintains innocence in girlfriend hoax

Undated file photo of Notre Dame Fighting Irish football star Manti Te'o.
January 18, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Manti Te'o maintained his innocence in an ESPN interview Friday, breaking his silence for the first time since the world caught wind that Lennay Kekua, who he believed was his girlfriend, never existed.

In the off-camera interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, the Notre Dame linebacker tried to set the record straight.

"No. Never," Te'o said in the interview. "I wasn't faking it. I wasn't part of this."

In early December, Te'o reportedly got a phone call from his dead girlfriend, telling him that she was alive. Te'o told Shapp, however, that it wasn't until two days ago that he knew for a fact she didn't exist, and that's when Ronaiah Tuiasosopo called him and apologized, admitting he created the entire hoax.

In a long radio interview with The Zone 1280 AM in Salt Lake City, Manti Te'o's uncle, Alema Te'o, says he believes Tuiasosopo created the entire hoax and should be prosecuted for the scam.

"Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is a liar, he concocted the whole thing," he said. "He misrepresented whatever program that he was trying to get across to Manti, shoot, he lied every step of the way."

Alema Te'o says his nephew met Tuiasosopo following the Notre Dame USC game, and Tuiasosopo said that he was a good friend of Kekua's, who had died of leukemia. He was looking for donations for a foundation to help others with the disease.

"He said he was a representative from the Angel Foundation, and that he did all these fundraisers for leukemia and was doing some things currently to help raise money on behalf of Lennay, this so-called Manti's girlfriend," Alema Te'o said.

Kekua was made up, but by whom is the burning question.

ESPN's Outside the Lines says that Tuiasosopo confessed to being behind the hoax to a church friend last month. The church friend did not want to be identified, and only agreed to a phone interview.

"He told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim," she said. "The girlfriend part was a lie, the accident was a lie, leukemia was a lie."

But it is the time line of events that is raising so many questions. Manti Te'o says he learned of the hoax on Dec. 6, and yet two days later he spoke of his fake girlfriend in an interview.

But the real questions center on the alleged mastermind of the hoax. A former Palmdale classmate of Tuiasosopo says they can't believe he would create such a scam.

"He's actually a really nice guy," Natalie Tenerelli said. "We had drama class together, and I would never expect him to do something like this, so it's kind of shocking and I would hope to believe that he is not a part of it."

The woman whose picture was used in the online hoax has been identified as Diane O'Meara. She was a classmate of Tuiasosopo at Paraclete High School in Lancaster. According to Deadspin.com, she says she had no knowledge Tuiasosopo was using her picture as part of the hoax.

Fresh details have emerged about how complex and layered the hoax was. According to ABC News interviews, Te'o received phone calls, text messages and letters before every football game from his girlfriend. He was also 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.

ESPN and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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