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Manti Te'o hoax: Woman at center of scandal not talking 'right now'

January 18, 2013 |  8:19 am

A new Southern California character has emerged in the hoax involving Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o.

A deadspin.com report Wednesday linked a Palmdale man to the hoax that fooled media outlets across the nation. The man allegedly was involved in creating a fake Twitter account for a woman who never existed and linked her with the Heisman Trophy runner-up, who spoke repeatedly to the media about her, her illness and supposed death.

That woman 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 someone was using her photo -- remains unclear. She was not at her workplace Thursday when The Times visited there.

One relative of the man linked to masterminding the hoax told the Long Beach Press-Telegram on Thursday that the ordeal has been a "nightmare," and said he didn't believe that his relative 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."

The suspected hoaxer'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."

That man's family was asking for privacy. A woman who answered the door at their house 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.

Adding to the mystery, someone logged into a Twitter account for the fake girlfriend and sent out a tweet stating: "My statement: This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but I have been told by Alabama's offense that Manti Te'o is not real."

On Dec. 26, Te'o told Notre Dame officials that his girlfriend did not exist and that he was a 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.


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-- Matt Stevens in Palmdale and Richard Winton, Kate Mather and Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles