- Shelley Smith, SportsCenter correspondent
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Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man who has been publicly identified as being behind the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, called a church friend in early December crying and admitted to duping the Heisman finalist, the friend told "Outside the Lines" Thursday.
The friend, a woman in her mid-20s, agreed to be interviewed under the condition that she not be identified, saying she was fearful for her family's safety because of the overwhelming publicity the story has generated. In the interview, she did allow for her voice to be recorded.
She said Tuiasosopo gave her the tearful confession and account of how he played what he said was at first a game on the unsuspecting Te'o. And, she said, he told her that it wasn't the first time he had done it.
"He (Ronaiah) told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. ... The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie," said the woman. "He was crying, he was literally crying, he's like 'I know, I know what I have to do.'
"It's not only Manti, but he was telling me that it's a lot of other people they had done this to."
Notre Dame issued a news release Wednesday after Deadspin.com reported it could find no record of Lennay Kekua, Te'o's supposed girlfriend, existing.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a news conference Wednesday night that coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te'o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself" with Te'o, the school said, then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had died of leukemia.
Swarbrick said that the relationship took place online and over the phone. Te'o had described staying on the phone with whom he thought was Kekua for hours each night over many months. Tuiasosopo's friend from church told ESPN that Tuiasosopo admitted to having his female cousin speak to Te'o over the phone.
Te'o told Notre Dame officials that he received a phone call Dec. 6, while in attendance at an ESPN awards show in Orlando, from a number he recognized as having been that he associated with Kekua. The woman on the line during that phone call told Te'o she had to fake her own death in order to elude drug dealers, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports, citing a source close to Te'o's family. The woman then tried to restart her relationship with Te'o.
Te'o asked for a photo with a date stamp to verify her identity, the paper reports, but wasn't convinced and later went to his family and school officials to describe the hoax.
Meanwhile, on Friday, an adviser to Te'o told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap that the linebacker has been huddling Friday morning with family members and a team of advisers, who are trying to determine the best way for him to address the controversy. The adviser, who's been part of the discussions, also said that all of the advisers are thoroughly convinced that Te'o is telling the truth in saying that he was a victim of a hoax.
OTL also interviewed two other people who said they have a cousin who had the same online hoax pulled on them by Tuiasosopo.
J.R. Vaosa, 28, of Torrance, Calif., and Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, 21, of Whittier, Calif., said that in 2008 their cousin began an online romance with a woman who portrayed herself as a model. Vaosa said the cousin showed Vaosa a picture on MySpace of a woman from a Victoria's Secret catalog that he said was Kekua. Vaosa said that the online Kekua would agree to meet his cousin at certain places. Vaosa said he went with the cousin to meet her.
"When Lennay said she was gonna be at this park one day, we'd go to the park and Ronaiah pops up and then we go to the gym in Orange County where the kids have volleyball tournaments, Ronaiah's there," Vaosa said.
Finally, the family convinced Vaosa's cousin that something wasn't right and he needed to cut things off not only with Kekua, but Tuiasosopo, whom they were convinced was the real Kekua, Tuioti-Mariner said.
"I just knew that my cousin would invite her to certain events and Lennay would always say she would go to those things, but she would never end up going and instead of her going we would see Ronaiah," Tuioti-Mariner said.
Then this fall, Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner saw the story of Te'o's dying girlfriend.
"When I found out about the Samoan football player (and) his girlfriend, his Grandma died the same day, I was like, 'Whoa this is crazy,' I feel so bad for him, so I just looked him up," Vaosa said. "I found out his girlfriend's name was Lennay Kekua. And right when I read the name Lennay Kekua, I immediately thought of Ronaiah. Then I thought of my cousin -- that this has to be the same person."
The cousins said they were convinced Te'o was being victimized, but they were uncertain of what to do. They said they began tweeting their suspicions. Many of their tweets were laced with sarcasm including claims that they were the real Lennay Kekua. After Deadspin.com broke the story on Te'o and Swarbrick held a news conference, Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner found reporters at their door and said threats were made to them and their families on Twitter.
Another person involved in the hoax has come forward as well. The woman whose photos were portrayed as Kekua was identified by "Inside Edition" as Diane O'Meara. Her lawyer told the program that her client is also a victim and that her photos were stolen and used to create the illusion of Te'o's girlfriend.
Deadspin.com reported in its original story that the woman whose images were used as Kekua's was actually a former high school classmate of Tuiasosopo and that he used a ruse to get her to send him at least one photo.
Meanwhile, the woman who says Tuiasosopo confessed to her said she has urged Tuiasosopo to take responsibility for his actions.
She said he called her Wednesday as the news of the hoax was breaking. She said he sounded calm but she worries about his guilt over what he did to Te'o and what he did to his family name, one of the most prominent in all of Polynesian sports. She worries what he might do to himself.
"I (still) am worried for him (Ronaiah), not just him and his family but I know that you can't judge people like that and that's why I continue to just encourage (him) to come out and tell the truth," she said.
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