Manti Te'o hoax suspect posed as girlfriend in calls, lawyer says
The attorney for Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the alleged person behind the Manti Te’o fake-girlfriend affair, said his client pretended to be the woman in phone calls with the football star.
Attorney MIlton Grimes said Tuiasosopo was acting when he portrayed "Lennay Kekua," the woman with whom Te’o said he had fallen in love with -- but never met.
The attorney said Tuiasosopo disguised his voice to sound like a woman, similar to what people do when they are role-playing or method acting.
"It don’t think it’s so unusual that a person could imitate the voice of a person of a different sex," Grimes said.
He insisted his client didn't mean to hurt Te'o.
"He did not intend to harm him in any way," he said.
Tuiasosopo was planning to come clean and reveal the exact nature of his relationship with the football player and his role in the hoax during an interview with TV’s Dr. Phil, Grimes told The Times on Tuesday.
The taped interview would be aired Thursday, Grimes said.
The onetime lawyer for the late Rodney King said the 22-year-old Tuiasosopo, of Lancaster, "feels as though he needs therapy and part of that therapy is to ... tell the truth," Grimes said.
Te'o had spoken to reporters repeatedly about his supposed girlfriend and her battle with cancer, a story that captivated college football fans throughout the fall of 2012, when the Heisman Trophy runner-up helped his team to an undefeated regular season and to the national championship game.
A Deadspin.com report published Jan. 16 first revealed that the girlfriend was fake, and identified Tuiasosopo as the man behind the hoax.
Grimes said exact details of his client’s ruse would be revealed during the interview with Dr. Phil.
Grimes said Tuiasosopo had chosen Dr. Phil for his first public appearance because he felt that as a medical professional, Dr. Phil "might be inclined to have better insight [than a regular reporter] into what he’s going through ... the particular condition," Grimes said.
Diane O'Meara, a Southern California woman whose photos were apparently used in the fake girlfriend's social media accounts, told The Times that Tuiasosopo repeatedly asked for photos and videos from her in the weeks before the hoax unraveled. She called his actions "kind of annoying," but added, "As a compassionate person, I totally believed him."
Grimes said he had warned his client, who is seeing a medical professional, that he could face legal consequences for admitting that he falsified his identity on the Internet. But Tuiasosopo insisted that going public was something had had to do in order to move on with his healing process.
"His point is that he wants to heal," Grimes said. "He knows that if he doesn’t come out and tell the truth it will interfere with him getting out of this place that he is in."
"This is part of my public healing," Grimes quoted Tuiasosopo as saying.
-- Ann M. Simmons in Palmdale
Photo: Talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw, left, interviews Ronaiah Tuiasosopo during taping for the "Dr. Phil Show" in Los Angeles. Credit: Associated Press