Manti Te'o hoax suspect says he's 'in love' with football star
The man accused of hoaxing Manti Te’o fell “deeply romantically in love” with the Notre Dame linebacker and said he was “confused” about his sexuality, TV’s Dr. Phil McGraw told the "Today" show in a clip that aired Wednesday.
The Antelope Valley man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, is allegedly the person behind the Te’o fake-girlfriend affair. He is 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 McGraw to be aired Thursday, his attorney, Milton Grimes, told The Times.
Grimes said Tuiasosopo was acting when he portrayed "Lennay Kekua," the woman with whom Te’o said he had fallen in love, but never met. Grimes said his client pretended to be the woman in phone calls with the football star, disguising his voice to sound like a woman, similar to what people do when they are role-playing or method acting.
"I don’t think it’s so unusual that a person could imitate the voice of a person of a different sex," Grimes said.
In a short clip of that interview obtained by The Times, McGraw asks Tuiasosopo why he ended his relationship with Te’o.
“For many reasons,” Tuiasosopo said. “There were many times where Manti and Lennay had broken up before.... They would break up, and then something would bring them back together, whether it was something going on in his life or something going in Lennay’s life -- in this case, in my life. I wanted to end it, because after everything I had gone through, I finally realized that I just had to move on with my life. I had to get me, Ronaiah. I had to start just living and just let this go.”
Grimes, the onetime lawyer for the late Rodney King, said Tuiasosopo "feels as though he needs therapy and part of that therapy is to ... tell the truth."
McGraw told "Today" that “Ronaiah had a number of life experiences that damaged this young man in some very serious ways,” and after speaking with Tuiasosopo, he believes that Te’o "absolutely, unequivocally" was not involved in the hoax.
Grimes insisted his client didn't mean to hurt Te'o.
"He did not intend to harm him in any way," 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 fall 2012, when the Heisman Trophy runner-up helped his team finish out the regular season undefeated and helped get them 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 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 he 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.
--Matt Stevens, Kate Mather and Ann Simmons