Manti Te'o hoax: Alleged mastermind’s family hires legal counsel
The father of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who has been publicly identified as the man behind the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, thanked his Antelope Valley congregation Sunday for their support for his family but declined to discuss the case with reporters.
“I want to thank you for your prayers, church family,” said an emotional Pastor Titus Tuiasosopo, pausing to regain his composure. “I love you. Thank you for being here.”
At the end of the two-hour service, his brother Peter “Navy” Tuiasosopo told reporters in the church parking lot that the family had obtained legal counsel and would be giving an interview later this week.
“The family is strong,” he said. “The family will stay together.”
Te'o, a star linebacker at Notre Dame, has strongly denied he had any role in an elaborate hoax involving a girlfriend he allegedly met on the Internet and later learned did not exist, blaming instead Ronaiah Tuiasosopo for the entire incident.
"I wasn't faking it. I wasn't part of this." he told ESPN last week.
In the interview, Te'o identified the alleged hoaxer as Tuiasosopo. He said Tuiasosopo and two other people perpetrated the scam. Tuiasosopo, he added, called him last week to apologize.
"Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing," he said.
A Deadspin.com report Wednesday linked the Palmdale man to the hoax that fooled media outlets across the nation. The man allegedly was involved in creating a Twitter account for a fictitious woman and linking her with the Heisman Trophy runner-up, who spoke repeatedly to the media about her, her illness and death.
"I hope he learns," Te'o told ESPN, referring to Tuiasosopo. "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."
The player's uncle, Alema Te’o, told Salt Lake City radio station KZNS-AM that his nephew wasn't in on the hoax.
The alleged hoaxer "is a liar, he concocted the whole thing, he misrepresented whatever program that he was trying to get across to Manti, and shoot, he lied every step of the way," he told the station.
The woman whose photo was used as part of the hoax lives in the South Bay. The Times tried unsuccessfully to reach her Thursday, but the TV show "Inside Edition" spoke to her briefly.
"Right now, I'm not making any comment," she told the show. "So go and contact my legal attorneys and they will help you out."
The extent of her connection to the hoax -- and whether she was a participant or whether someone was using her photo -- remains unclear. She was not at her workplace Thursday.
A cousin of Tuiasosopo's told the Long Beach Press-Telegram on Thursday that the matter has been a "nightmare" and said he didn't believe that his cousin would perpetrate such a ruse.
"This is all still new to me," Ed Lalau told the newspaper. "I just pray that we get over this. It's been a nightmare for everyone."
Tuiasosopo's father posted a message on Facebook in which he spoke about the frenzy of media attention.
"I know so much has been splattered all over the media about my son & my family. I also know that many who were born in a manger in Bethlehem & continue to walk on water will undoubtedly express their opinions," he wrote. "Those of you who know us the best still love us the most. It my hope & prayer that we allow the truth to take its course, wherever that may lead."
He described Te'o as "an amazing role model for our youth and Samoan community."
Tuiasosopo's family was asking for privacy. A woman who answered the door at their house last week smiled and said, "No thank you, no comment," to a Times reporter who identified himself.
"I would appreciate if you gave us some privacy, please," she said.
On Dec. 26, Te'o told Notre Dame officials that his girlfriend did not exist and that he was the victim of an elaborate Internet hoax, the school said Wednesday.
"In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark," Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said, "because he is a guy who is so willing to believe in others and so ready to help, that as this hoax played out in a way that called upon those tendencies of Manti, it roped him more and more into the trap."
Swarbrick outlined a bizarre story in which Te'o learned, more than three months after her reported death, that his "girlfriend" never existed. The player received a phone call Dec. 6, while at an awards show, from what he believed was the old cellphone number of the supposed girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. The woman on the other end -- in a voice he recognized as Kekua's -- told him that she wasn't dead. She later tried to rekindle the relationship, Swarbrick said.
"Every single thing about this, until that day in the first week of December, was real to Manti," Swarbrick said. "There was no suspicion it wasn't. No belief it might not be. The pain was real. The grief was real. The affection was real. That's the nature of this sad, cruel game."
Swarbrick likened the hoax to the movie "Catfish," in which a person creates a fake persona with someone else's picture and then dupes another person into a romantic relationship. The film spurred a popular MTV show by the same name that investigates online relationships to see if the participants are real.
Te'o notified his coaches of the situation after discussing it with his parents over the Christmas break. Swarbrick said he met with the player twice and found his story about the exclusively online-and-telephone relationship to be consistent. Te'o and Kekua never met face to face, Swarbrick said.
-Kate Mather, Matt Stevens and Richard Winton
Photo: Manti Te'o Credit: Associated Press