We have likely heard the last words from Manti Te’o and his family about the hoax that started as a sports story and has since turned into a cultural phenomenon. With the story moving from websites like ESPN to pop culture locales like TMZ, Te’o’s appearance yesterday on Katie, former CBS news anchor Katie Couric’s daytime talk show, acknowledged that Te’o and his representatives needed to do the ugly PR work needed to keep the All-American linebacker mainly in the football world, separating himself from characters like NBA player Kris Humphries, who is now more associated with his tabloid marriage and divorce proceedings with reality TV star Kim Kardashian than his exploits on the basketball court.
But in the story that will not die, the hoax surrounding fictional girlfriend Lennay Kekua, the brainchild of 22-year-old Southern California native Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, has taken another set of twists and turns.
Yesterday, a high-powered Los Angeles lawyer said to be representing Tuiasosopo, claimed that Ronaiah was the voice behind the phone calls exchanged between Te’o and what was thought to be Kekua, an astounding feat of subterfuge considering the hundreds of hours Te’o and his supposed long-distance girlfriend spent talking.
While many were once again quick to jump on Te’o — this time for his ability to be duped by a man said to be impersonating a female — Couric played audio of three voicemails left on Te’o’s phone, and just about anyone being honest with themselves heard the voice of a young woman.
The audio was so compelling that ABC News’ Matt Gutman spoke with audio experts that said it was impossible that those recordings featured a man’s voice. And in a New York Post report from Friday, the focus has now shifted away from Ronaiah Tuiasosopo to his female cousin Tino Tuiasosopo, who the post reports is the real voice of Lennay Kekua.
Hoax mastermind Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s pretty young cousin played the part of “Lennay Kekua,” the fake girlfriend he created, The Post has learned.
Tino Tuiasosopo convinced the Notre Dame grid star that she was the real deal, calling him at school, telling him she loved him and even sobbing hysterically when another girl answered his phone, several of the woman’s relatives said yesterday.
“Tino is the girl that Manti has been talking to all these months,” said a Tuiasosopo cousin.
The revelation shoots down claims by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s attorney, Milton Grimes, that Ronaiah altered his masculine voice to play the part of the chirpy, flirty Kekua.
The rest of the Post story reveals some details that make it seem like we’ve finally stumbled upon the truth behind the curious question of who Te’o was talking to for all those hours.
Te’o had told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap the down-to-the-details information about who he thought Lennay Kekua was, and they match up quite closely with Tino Tuiasosopo. Te’o said Kekua worked for her father’s construction company. The Post reports that Tino Tuiasosopo works for her father’s construction company in American Samoa.
In Schaap’s interview, Te’o pointed to the end of Lennay’s relationship with her previous boyfriend as the time his relationship blossomed with Lennay. The Post reports that Tino “assumed her role in the Te’o ruse after she was dumped from a long distance relationship with another man.”
“She said it was OK, because she was doing better. She said she was talking to another person [and] he plays football for Notre Dame — number 5, Manti,” a source told The Post.
In other news related to the story, the Associated Press has obtained an eight-page letter sent from Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins to the school’s Board of Trustees, detailing the school’s handling of their investigation into the hoax.
With a detailed outline of the university’s actions and a four-page explanation to the trustees, Jenkins told the board that everything they uncovered has largely been in line with what Te’o told school officials in late December.
“We did our best to get to the truth in extraordinary circumstances, be good stewards of the interests of the university and its good name and – as we do in all things – to make the well-being of our students one of our very highest priorities,” Jenkins concluded in his letter.
Some of the timeline Notre Dame outlined is well known, including that its star linebacker disclosed the scam to his coaches the day after Christmas and it remained unknown to the public until Deadspin.com broke the story on Jan. 16, long after the Fighting Irish lost the BCS championship to Alabama on Jan. 7.
Jenkins wrote that Notre Dame officials talked in the hours after hearing from Te’o on Dec. 26 and agreed there was no indication of a crime or student conduct code violation. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick spoke with Te’o the next day, and on Dec. 28 the school concluded there were no indications of an NCAA rules violation, which could have put Notre Dame’s 12-0 regular season in jeopardy.
The school then made moves to find out who was behind the hoax, thereby protecting Te’o and itself.
“For the first couple of days after receiving the news from Manti, there was considerable confusion and we simply did not know what there was to disclose,” Jenkins wrote.
On Jan. 2, after several days of internal discussion and a week after Te’o’s disclosure, Notre Dame retained Stroz Friedberg, a New York computer forensics firm to investigate the case and whether any other football players had been targeted.
That the university ended up hiring one of the leading firms in digital forensics and cybercrimes should end any of the outrage that emanated from certain media outlets, who characterized the investigation as something akin to keystone cops, with criticism coming rather loudly from those who questioned the tactics used by the independent investigators.
Yet it took just two days for the investigators to come to the conclusion that Te’o was indeed the victim of the hoax, and that it presented no threat to the school. Combine that with the fact that Te’o had hired Creative Artists Agency to represent him, and Jenkins told the board the school “concluded that this matter was personal to Manti.”