Syracuse, police investigate Bernie Fine

Updated: November 19, 2011, 2:38 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Syracuse associate men's basketball coach Bernie Fine, accused by two former ball boys of molesting them over a 16-year period, strongly denied the allegations Friday in a statement released by his lawyer.

In the statement, Fine said the allegations have been thoroughly investigated multiple times and that he has fully cooperated with past inquiries.

"Sadly, we live in an allegation-based society and an Internet age where in a matter of minutes one's lifelong reputation can be severely damaged," the statement said. "I am confident that, as in the past, a review of these allegations will be discredited and restore my reputation. I hope the latest review of these allegations will be conducted expeditiously."

"Finally, I appreciate (chancellor Nancy Cantor's) statement that I should be accorded a fair opportunity to defend myself against these accusations. I fully intend to do so. There should never be a rush to judgment when someone's personal integrity and career are on the line."

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim defended his 35-year assistant in a series of interviews, including one with the Syracuse Post-Standard on Friday.

"What?" Boeheim asked of the newspaper. "I can't support a friend of 50 years? I hope that's not the case. Some people have said that if these allegations are true, I should be fired. Why? Because Bernie Fine is my friend and I support him? I don't have any reason not to.

"I'm not Joe Paterno. Somebody didn't come and tell me Bernie Fine did something and I'm hiding it. I know nothing. If I saw some reason not to support Bernie, I would not support him. If somebody showed me a reason, proved that reason, I would not support him. But until then, I'll support him until the day I die."

Friday, Cantor sent a message to school alumni saying the school will "do everything in our power to find the truth" in the wake of the allegations, which Bobby Davis (now 39) and Mike Lang (a stepbrother of Davis, now 45) say occurred from the late 1970s through the early 1990s.

Thursday, Davis and Lang told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that Fine sexually abused them at his home, at the Syracuse basketball facilities and on road trips, including the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans.

Syracuse police said Thursday night they are investigating the claims, including meeting with both men, and stressed to "Outside The Lines" that they are in the early stages of the investigation.

Fine was placed on administrative leave by the school Thursday night "in light of the new allegations." Former Syracuse star Gerry McNamara will fill in on the Orange's coaching staff while Fine is on leave, Boeheim announced Friday.

In on-camera interviews with ESPN, Davis said he was sexually abused "hundreds of times" and said that when he resisted, Fine would become more aggressive.

Asked why he didn't come forward during the 16 years he said Fine molested and sexually abused him, Davis said: "I honestly didn't think anybody would believe me."

Lang told "Outside the Lines" that Fine was like "a god to you. He can do whatever he wants."

Lang said Fine touched his genitals "probably 15, 20 times."

Fine, in his statement, said: "Simply put, these allegations are patently false in every aspect. The fact is these allegations have been thoroughly investigated multiple times. When evaluating the veracity of these accusations, please keep in mind that credible media outlets were approached in the past to publicize these false allegations and declined to do so. I fully cooperated with all past inquires."

Onondaga County district attorney William Fitzpatrick promised Friday a full investigation into the allegations.

"I want to know who knew what, what they knew, what they did about it and what they didn't do about it," Fitzpatrick said, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Fitzpatrick told the Post-Standard that his office was never notified of complaints to the police, which came in 2002 and 2003, or of a Syracuse University investigation in 2005.

Bond, Schoeneck & King, a local law firm, conducted the investigation for the university, according to the Post-Standard. Fitzpatrick said his office received a copy of the report Friday.

In response Friday, Cantor emailed alumni, saying, "Let me be clear. We are aware that many wonder if university administrations are willing to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing that may disrupt a successful sports program. I can assure you I am not, and my fellow administrators are not.

"We hold everyone in our community to high standards and we don't tolerate illegal, abusive or unethical behavior -- no matter who you are."

She reiterated a statement Syracuse made Thursday night. In it, the school said: "In 2005, Syracuse University was contacted by an adult male who told us that he had reported to the Syracuse City Police that he had been subjected to inappropriate contact by an associate men's basketball coach. The alleged activity took place in the 1980s and 1990s. We were informed by the complainant that the Syracuse City Police had declined to pursue the matter because the statute of limitations had expired.

"On hearing of the allegations in 2005, the university immediately launched its own comprehensive investigation through its legal counsel. That nearly four-month-long investigation included a number of interviews with people the complainant said would support his claims. All of those identified by the complainant denied any knowledge of wrongful conduct by the associate coach. The associate coach also vehemently denied the allegations.

"Syracuse University takes any allegation of this sort extremely seriously and has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. If any evidence or corroboration of the allegations had surfaced, we would have terminated the associated coach and reported it to the police immediately. We understand that the Syracuse City Police has now reopened the case, and Syracuse University will cooperate fully. We are steadfastly committed ensuring that SU remains a safe place for every member of our campus community."

Cantor added Friday: "At this time, all we really know is that a terrible tragedy is unfolding for both the accuser and the accused. I want you to know that we will do everything in our power to find the truth, and -- if and when we do find it -- to let you know what we have found."

On Thursday, both men spoke in on-camera interviews with ESPN, describing what they said were encounters with Fine that included reaching into their shorts and rubbing their genitals.

"I didn't feel right about it," Lang said. "And I told him, 'Bernie, please don't do that to me.' "

Davis told "Outside the Lines" that Boeheim saw him in Fine's hotel room on several of those road trips, but Davis said he never told Boeheim about the alleged abuse.

Davis said sexual contact with Fine continued until he was about 27 years old.

Davis said he felt bitter emotions about the molestation as sex scandals have emerged in the Catholic Church, and lately with former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Davis said he reported the abuse to Syracuse police in 2003, but a detective told him that the statute of limitations had run out. Davis said the detective told him that if he knew of boys being molested by Fine at the time, that Syracuse police would investigate those allegations. Davis said he told the detective that he thought other boys were being molested, but that he had direct knowledge only of Fine molesting him.

Prior to Aug. 5, 2008, when New York's law changed and the statute of limitations was eliminated, prosecutions for felony sex abuse of a child had to begin within five years after authorities learned about it or within five years after the child turned 18.

New York lawmakers have since eliminated the statute of limitations on Class B sex felonies, which include aggravated sex abuse and course of sexual conduct against a child. However the old law applies to previous cases.

"Outside the Lines" investigated Davis' account in 2003 but decided not to run the story because there were no other alleged victims who would talk, and no independent evidence to corroborate it. In recent days, Lang contacted "Outside the Lines" with information alleging that Fine also had molested him. Lang said he was inspired to talk after seeing news coverage of the Sandusky case.

Information from ESPN enterprise unit reporter Mark Schwarz, producer Arty Berko, ESPN.com's Mike Fish (michaeljfish@gmail.com), ESPN's Paula Lavigne (paula.lavigne@espn.com) and The Associated Press is included in this report.

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