Bernie Fine will not face state charges

Updated: December 7, 2011, 6:58 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- A county district attorney who at first sharply criticized police and Syracuse University for their handling of sex-abuse allegations against an assistant basketball coach said Wednesday that he cannot bring charges but found that two men who accused the coach of sexual abuse are credible.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said he will not pursue a state case because the statute of limitations has passed. He said his investigation into the claims against fired coach Bernie Fine started out to answer several questions, among them: Were the first two accusers, Bobby Davis and his stepbrother Michael Lang, being truthful?

"On almost every single criteria, Bobby Davis came out as a credible person," the district attorney said. "Mike Lang also comes across as a credible person."

Davis and Lang have accused Fine of molesting them for years starting in the 1980s. The 65-year-old Fine, who had been Boeheim's top assistant since 1976, has adamantly denied wrongdoing.

At his news conference to explain that the statute of limitations would keep him from conducting an investigation, Fitzpatrick addressed Davis directly.

"Bobby, I'm sorry it took so long," he said. "I wish I had met you as a prosecutor in 2002. Even more importantly, I wish I had met you as a prosecutor back in the 1980s. We wouldn't be here today."

The accusations against Fine once appeared to threaten the job of Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, who has said he is unaware of any abuses happening during his tenure.

Boeheim at first vehemently defended his longtime friend and assistant and said the accusations were lies to make money in the wake of the Penn State sex abuse scandal. He later backtracked and said he was wrong to question the motives of the accusers.

Davis and Lang, both former ball boys for the team, have accused Fine of molesting them at his home, on the road with the team, or in team facilities when they were boys. Fitzpatrick said allegations from a third man, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli of Maine, don't relate to Onondaga County.

Tomaselli's phone rang unanswered Wednesday.

Tomaselli also is charged in Maine with molesting a teenage boy and said this week that he'll plead guilty.

The U.S. attorney's office is investigating and has seized computers, cameras, phones and records during searches of his office, home and locker.

Even with the support of the district attorney, neither Lang nor Davis can bring civil action against Fine.

The statute of limitations in New York on bringing a civil suit for child sexual abuse is five years after the victim turns 18. New York lawmakers are again considering a measure to lift it or open a one-year window for older incidents that, if approved, would open the way for a civil suit by Davis or Lang.

Davis went to the police in 2002, and a detective told him the statute of limitations had expired. Three years later, he went to the university; Syracuse had its lawyers do an internal investigation and says it, too, couldn't verify Davis' accusations.

Then, on Nov. 17, with the country still caught up in the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, where a former assistant football coach is accused of molesting 10 boys, Davis came forward on ESPN. Lang came forward. Ten days later, Tomaselli spoke out. That day, Nov. 27, ESPN aired a tape in which a woman it identified as Fine's wife tells Davis she knew "everything" that was going on.

Fitzpatrick said a 2005 probe by the university into Davis' claims was inadequate but said people should stop calling for the resignation of Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor and Boeheim.

Blame, he said, stops with one man: "Hasn't Bernie Fine caused enough pain in this community?" Fitzpatrick said.

He said it also was wrong to make any comparison to the sex scandal at Penn State that cost legendary football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier their jobs.

"It's not only inaccurate, it's not fair," he said.

Fine was fired after the three men made public accusations and ESPN played a 2002 recording of a phone call in which a woman ESPN identified as his wife tells an accuser she knew "everything that went on."

Tomaselli's claims fall within federal statutes of limitations and are being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service.

Investigators searched Fine's home, office and school locker, looking for pornography that could be used "to sexually arouse or groom young males" to have sex, court records say. The investigators took computers, cameras, disks and records, among other things. They're also looking for any records that would detail Fine's contact with boys.

Fitzpatrick said he wouldn't judge Fine.

"It is not my place to pronounce Bernie Fine guilty of anything," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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