If you’re following the story, the six-minute ESPN clip below is obligatory. The two people interviewed on camera, Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner, should be familiar: They were the ones who were tweeting about Lennay Kekua being a fake two days before Te’o himself allegedly found out. How’d they know when he didn’t? Because, if they’re to be believed, alleged hoaxster Ronaiah Tuiasosopo ran this same scam on their cousin years ago. He may or may not have also tried to scam the show “The Voice” when he auditioned. As you’ll see, a friend of Tuiasosopo’s tells ESPN that he came to her crying in early December claiming that he’d duped Te’o; that timeline fits with the claim from Notre Dame that the hoaxster(s) finally ‘fessed up to Te’o on December 6. And one more thing fits: According to the friend, it wasn’t just Tuiasosopo but two of his cousins, one a man and one a woman, who were in on it. That explains how Te’o could have had long phone calls with Kekua and spoken repeatedly to her brother. If he’s telling the truth, he was probably unknowingly talking to the cousins.
But wait. It gets weirder:
Manti Te’o has told family and friends that the woman who was the voice of his fictitious girlfriend “Lennay Kekua” called him in December and said she had to fake her own death months earlier to elude drug dealers, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has learned.
The woman, who has yet to be identified, tried to re-engage a relationship with Te‘o months after she supposedly had died of leukemia in early September, the Notre Dame All-American linebacker has told the people close to him. The account was shared with the Star-Advertiser by a source close to the Te‘o family.
According to the account, Te’o asked the woman to transmit a photo to him with a date stamp, which she did, but this did not allay his suspicions and he later told his family and Notre Dame officials about being scammed.
So maybe that’s why Te’o didn’t tell anyone about the hoax until December 26. He was still in communication with “her” during that time and trying to figure out what was happening. (Or maybe he really did want to avoid distracting the team before the BCS Championship game. But in that case, why’d he tell Notre Dame officials about the hoax two weeks before the game was played? Why not after?)
So there you go. Mystery solved, all nice and tidy. Except for … just a few things.
1. We still don’t know why Te’o’s father thought his son and Kekua had met face to face at a game at Stanford in 2009 or why he thought she had visited Te’o in Hawaii.
2. Te’o and Tuiasosopo were friendly enough to have hung out together on November 23, along with Tuiasosopo’s cousin. That doesn’t prove anything either way. Maybe Tuiasosopo’s disturbed enough that he was happy to run this scam even on a guy who knew and liked him. Or maybe they were in cahoots. But they were, evidently, in contact shortly before the whole thing unraveled.
3. Te’o supposedly began dating someone else less than two months after Kekua died. That doesn’t prove anything either; people grieve differently, even over the death of the alleged “love of my life.” But remember that some Notre Dame teammates have been whispering to reporters that while they believed Kekua existed, they also believed that Te’o vastly exaggerated the extent of his relationship with her for sympathy. There remains a bizarre possibility here that he did have contact with someone whom he honestly thought was Lennay Kekua yet hyped the depth of their “romance” in order to burnish his personal narrative. One hoax on top of another, in other words, yet both independent of each other.
4. In the clip, ESPN says Tuiasosopo’s unnamed friend claims that he and both of his cousins impersonated female voices while on the phone with Te’o. What? One of the cousins is male, as is Tuiasosopo. How’d they fool him?
5. Vaosa, one of the people featured in the clip, apparently told ESPN that he thinks Te’o is innocent. Quote:
The cousins [Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner] said they were convinced Te’o was being victimized, but they were uncertain of what to do. They said they began tweeting their suspicions.
Not so fast, says Deadspin. Vaosa told us something different:
Another one of Smith’s sources, a man named J.R. Vaosa, spoke to us for our original story, saying Tuiasosopo had confessed to his best friend. He tried to put us in touch with her, to no avail. Vaosa was one of our two unnamed sources who believed that Tuiasosopo had been in league with Te’o in the deception…
Vaoso, whose cousin had been duped by Lennay/Tuiasosopo in for a month in 2008, said he was “80 percent” certain that Te’o had known of the hoax at some point before Lennay’s “death.”
Why would Vaosa’s story have changed over the past week? Is there some new evidence he’s heard of to have changed his mind about Te’o’s guilt?