Jan 23, 2013, 3:50 PM EST
With Manti Te’o‘s much anticipated conversation with Katie Couric airing tomorrow afternoon, one of the final chapters in a bizarre story will play out.
While this won’t likely end any of the conspiracy theories or fascination about what really happened, one of the most important pieces of information seems to have just trickled out of ESPN’s report, burying deep beneath the lede of the story.
Manti Te’o has records to prove these phone calls happened.
This from ESPN:
A source close to Te’o gave Schaap documents that the source says are Te’o’s AT&T phone records from May 11 to Sept. 12. Their veracity could not be independently confirmed, but the source insisted they are genuine.
The records show that in that four-month span — when Te’o has said he believed Lennay Kekua to be in a Los Angeles hospital, recovering from an accident and being treated for cancer — Te’o made and received more than 1,000 calls totaling more than 500 hours in length from the same number in the 661 area code. The 661 area code covers Lancaster, which is part of Los Angeles County. The source told Schaap that Te’o believed the 661 phone number in question was Kekua’s.
Of these calls, 110 were more than 60 minutes in length, including several that were several hundred minutes long. In an ESPN interview last Friday, and in interviews with both ESPN and Sports Illustrated last fall, Te’o said he was on the phone “every single night” with a person he believed to be Kekua, often for long stretches late at night.
On Friday, he said to Schaap, “I’d be on the phone. And she had complications from the accident and, she said the only thing that could help her sleep was if I was on the phone. So I would be on the phone, and I’d have the phone on the whole night.”
From the records, however, it does not appear that Te’o was on the phone every single night for the entire night. But the volume of calls and their duration is prodigious.
The fact that there are records of Te’o’s phone conversations — some of “prodigious” durations — matches up with the accounts Te’o provided, both before and after Deadspin’s story broke, is a huge deal, and one that’s vastly under-reported right now. This should end any of the reporting that currently exists, characterizing Te’o as someone that invented a story. There seems to be records of Te’o actually speaking to someone. That much is clear.
NBC sat down with the face behind Lennay Kekua, with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s high school classmate Diane O’Meara appearing on the Today Show. O’Meara, whose images were the ones provided to Te’o throughout this relationship, claimed to be another innocent victim in the hoax, not knowing who Te’o even was until the story broke.
She also explained away a suspicious photo she took in December, one supplied to Te’o as proof that Lennay Kekua was alive and not dead, by telling Savannah Guthrie that she took the photo as a favor for Tuiasosopo, who was making a slideshow for a cousin that had been in a traumatic car accident.
After claiming to have not spoken to Tuiasosopo since high school, she explained the logic behind taking the photo, one used as the avatar for Lennay’s Twitter page.
“I could see how people would think that, but we’re raised to be polite, we’re raised to have a kind heart,’’ O’Meara told Today. “He repeatedly reached out to me on Facebook, and I almost felt guilty about not submitting a photo with this sign for this photo slideshow. He went as far as sending me a photo with his cousin with head trauma, bandages, in the hospital with him, and out of the kindness of my heart, I thought I was just comforting somebody.’’
While there’s been a healthy dose of skepticism surrounding Te’o, with reports continually focused on the two-day window of December 6-8, when Te’o was first alerted that Kekua was potentially still alive, the far greater story is the mystery behind these phone calls. Just who was Te’o talking to?
UPDATE: According to a report from the New York Daily News, the voice of Lennay Kekua was played by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo himself.
According to attorney Milton Grimes, the high-profile Los Angeles attorney who represented Rodney King, Tuiasosopo put on a falsetto voice to talk with Te’o. “(He) thought it was a female he was talking with,” Grimes told the Daily News. “It was Ronaiah as Lennay.”
Tuiasosopo has trained both as an actor and a singer, auditioning for shows such as The Voice and leading the band at his father’s church in California.
“Come on, Hollywood does it all the time,” Grimes told the Daily News Wednesday. “People can do that.”
Grimes said that his client was seeking professional mental help, but wants to tell his side of the story.
“This wasn’t a prank to make fun,” Grimes told The Daily News. “It was establishing a communication with someone. … It was a person with a troubled existence trying to reach out and communicate and have a relationship.
“He’s torn by this. He didn’t mean for anyone to be hurt. Anything that he has done, he has apologized to those he could apologize to.”