SYRACUSE, New York (AP) — Syracuse University has fired an assistant basketball coach thirty-six years after he was hired amid an investigation into child molestation allegations against him.
Bernie Fine was fired Sunday night after a third man accused him of molesting him.
The scandal at Syracuse, a college basketball powerhouse, comes only weeks after child sexual abuse allegations against an assistant coach ended the legendary career of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
Fine, who turns 66 in December, held the longest active streak of consecutive seasons at one school among assistant basketball coaches at the top level of the sport. He has denied the allegations.
Zach Tomaselli, 23, of Maine, said Sunday that he told police that Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room. The third accuser to come forward, Tomaselli said Fine touched him "multiple" times in that one incident. Tomaselli said the scandal at Penn State involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky prompted him to come forward. Sandusky is accused in a grand jury indictment of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a Hall of Fame member, said he supported the university's decision to fire his longtime assistant and expressed regret for his initial statements that might have been "insensitive to victims of abuse."
"The allegations that have come forth today are disturbing and deeply troubling," Boeheim said in a statement released by the school. "I am personally very shocked because I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged. I believe the university took the appropriate step tonight. What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported to come forward so that the truth can be found. I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse."
Boeheim, like Paterno at Penn State, put an obscure northeastern town on the American sports map. Syracuse had been known more for its snow than sports before Boeheim took over the basketball program in the 1970s.
Fine was an integral part of the staff that guided Syracuse to the national championship in 2003. During his tenure the Orange also made two other appearances in the NCAA title game, losing in 1987 to Indiana and in 1996 to Kentucky. He also guided the U.S. Maccabiah team to a silver medal at the 1993 World Maccabiah Games in Israel and has served as director of a successful basketball camp in the Northeast.
Tomaselli, who faces sexual assault charges in Maine involving a 14-year-old boy, said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press that he signed an affidavit accusing Fine following a meeting with Syracuse police last week in Albany.
Tomaselli's father, meanwhile, maintains his son is lying.
Two former Syracuse ball boys were the first to accuse Fine, who has called the allegations "patently false."
Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis told ESPN that the abuse occurred at Fine's home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four.
Davis' stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine began molesting him while he was in fifth or sixth grade.
When the accusations first became public Nov. 17, Boeheim adamantly defended his lifelong friend.
In an interview that day with the Post-Standard newspaper, Boeheim attacked Davis' reasons for going public with his accusations.
"The Penn State thing came out, and the kid behind this is trying to get money," Boeheim said. "He's tried before. And now he's trying again. If he gets this, he's going to sue the university and Bernie. What do you think is going to happen at Penn State? You know how much money is going to be involved in civil suits? I'd say about $50 million. That's what this is about. Money."
No one answered the door at the Fine home Sunday. Before Fine's firing, his attorneys released a statement saying Fine would not comment beyond his initial statement.
Amid the child sex-abuse scandal, Penn State's trustees ousted Paterno and university President Graham Spanier. The trustees said Spanier and Paterno, who is not the target of any criminal investigation, failed to act after a graduate assistant claimed he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a young boy in a campus shower in 2002. Former school administrators Tim Curley — who is on administrative leave — and Gary Schultz are charged with not properly alerting authorities to suspected abuse and with perjury. They maintain their innocence.
Tomaselli was arrested in April on 11 warrants charging gross sexual assault, tampering with a victim, two counts of unlawful sexual contact, five counts of visual sexual aggression against a child and unlawful sexual touching and unlawful sexual contact, Lewiston police said Sunday. They did not say what led to the charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
Tomaselli told the Post-Standard he met Fine after he and his father, Fred, attended a Syracuse autograph session on campus in late 2001.
The newspaper reported that Fine later called Tomaselli's parents to arrange for Tomaselli to go to Pittsburgh with the athletic department staff on a chartered bus, spend the night in Fine's hotel room and attend the team's game on Jan. 22, 2002.
Tomaselli told the Post-Standard that he had dinner with the team, then returned to the hotel room where he accused Fine of putting porn on the TV and fondling him in bed.
Tomaselli attended the basketball game the next day, sitting several rows behind the bench, and rode the chartered bus back to Syracuse, the newspaper reported.
On Sunday, ESPN played an audiotape, obtained and recorded by Davis, of an October 2002 telephone conversation between him and Laurie Fine.
Davis told ESPN he made the recording, which also has been given to Syracuse police, without her knowledge because he knew he needed proof for the police to believe his accusations. ESPN said it hired a voice recognition expert to verify the voice on the tape and the network said it was determined to be that of Laurie Fine.
Davis also acknowledged in an interview with ESPN that he and Laurie Fine had a sexual relationship when he was 18, and that he eventually told Bernie Fine about it.
"I thought he was going to kill me, but I had to tell him," Davis said. "It didn't faze him one bit."
During the call to the woman, Davis repeatedly asks her what she knew about the alleged molestation.
"Do you think I'm the only one that he's ever done that to?" Davis asked.
"No ... I think there might have been others but it was geared to ... there was something about you," the woman on the tape said.
On the tape, she also says she knew "everything that went on."
"Bernie has issues, maybe that he's not aware of, but he has issues. ... And you trusted somebody you shouldn't have trusted ... "
During the call, Davis tells her he asked her husband in the late 1990s for $5,000 to help pay off his student loans.
"When he gave you the money, what does he want for that?" she asked.
He tells her that Fine wanted to engage in sexual activity in several ways.
In an email to the Syracuse University community, Cantor said that taped phone call was not given to the school by Davis during its 2005 investigation.
On Friday, federal authorities carried out a search at his Fine's suburban Syracuse home but declined to comment on what they were looking for.
Associated Press writers John Kekis, Glenn Adams in Augusta, Maine and Amy Fiscus in Philadelphia contributed to this report.