Bernie Fine fired amid abuse allegations

Updated: November 28, 2011, 5:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Bernie Fine was fired Sunday by Syracuse University after a 10-year-old voice recording of his wife emerged in which she acknowledges alleged sexual abuse and a third man accused the assistant basketball coach of molesting him nine years ago.

"At the direction of Chancellor (Nancy) Cantor, Bernie Fine's employment with Syracuse University has been terminated, effective immediately," Kevin Quinn, the school's senior vice president for public affairs, said in a statement.

The 65-year-old Fine was in his 36th season at his alma mater. He had the longest active streak of consecutive seasons at one school among assistant coaches in Division I.

Zach Tomaselli, 23, of Lewiston, Maine, said Sunday that he told police that Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room. He said Fine touched him "multiple" times in that one incident.

He was the third accuser to come forward in the investigation of child molestation allegations against Fine.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim 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."

Two former Syracuse ball boys were the first to accuse Fine, who has called the allegations "patently false."

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.

On Sunday, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported that Fine's wife, Laurie, admitted in a tape-recorded 2002 telephone conversation that she had worries that her husband had sexually molested team ball boy Bobby Davis in their home, but said she felt powerless to stop the alleged abuse.

Davis, who told OTL that Fine molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27, legally recorded his Oct. 8, 2002, phone call to Laurie Fine.

"I know everything that went on, you know," Laurie Fine said on the call, obtained by "Outside the Lines" from Davis. "I know everything that went on with him ... Bernie has issues, maybe that he's not aware of, but he has issues ... And you trusted somebody you shouldn't have trusted ... "

She continued: "Bernie is also in denial. I think that he did the things he did, but he's somehow through his own mental telepathy has erased them out of his mind."

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.

He told ESPN he made the recording, which also has been given to Syracuse police, without Laurie Fine's knowledge because he knew he needed proof for the police to believe his accusations. ESPN hired a voice-recognition expert who said the voice on the tape matches the voice of Laurie Fine.

Reached by ESPN reporter Mark Schwarz on Sunday night, Davis said Fine's termination was welcome news.

"I appreciate the university doing the right thing," Davis said. "It means a lot that Bernie will not be in position to use his power to hurt little kids like he hurt me. It's going to be so much harder for people that HAVE power and try to use that authority to manipulate kids.

"I hope he now realizes he is not invincible and that he's not above the law."

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.

"He got what he deserved and NOW hopefully people believe me about him," Lang told Schwarz late Sunday night.

When the accusations first became public Nov. 17, Boeheim adamantly defended his lifelong friend.

In an interview that day with the Post-Standard, Boeheim attacked Davis' reasons for going public with his accusations.

[+] EnlargeBernie Fine
AP Photo/Kevin RivoliIn this Nov. 14 photo, Syracuse basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine watches a game in Syracuse, N.Y. Fine was fired Sunday amid allegations of child molestation.

"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.

"Any comment from him would only invite and perpetuate ancient and suspect claims," attorneys Donald Martin and Karl Sleight said. "Mr. Fine remains hopeful of a credible and expeditious review of the relevant issues by law enforcement authorities."

Onondaga County district attorney Bill Fitzpatrick called Fine's firing "a validation of Bobby Davis and an appropriate reaction by the University."

The Syracuse Police Department also is not commenting on any aspect of the Fine investigation at this time.

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.

Amid the child sex-abuse scandal, Penn State's trustees ousted longtime football coach Joe 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.

"It was the Sandusky stuff that came out that really made me think about it," Tomaselli said in the phone interview. "A lot of people were slamming ESPN and Bobby for saying anything. I wanted to come out. ... It made me sick to see all that support for Fine at that point. I was positive he was guilty."

Tomaselli told the Post-Standard that he didn't ask Syracuse police or federal authorities for help in getting the criminal charges dismissed against him in Maine.

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.

"The one time there was multiple incidents in that one night, but there was only one night that he ever sexually abused me," Tomaselli told the AP.

However, during a phone interview with the AP, Fred Tomaselli said: "I'm 100 percent sure that Bernie Fine was never in contact with Zach. He never went to Pittsburgh to a game, never been to that arena."

"I brought him to a couple of games in Syracuse. We always sat in the nosebleed section and left after the game. He never stayed for any overnighters and never even got within shouting distance of Bernie."

During his long career with Syracuse, Fine tutored the likes of Derrick Coleman, LeRon Ellis and John Wallace in his role of working with post players. Coleman was the top pick in the 1990 NBA draft, Ellis was the Clippers' 22nd overall choice in 1991, and Wallace was picked 18th in 1996 by the New York Knicks.

Boeheim and Fine met at Syracuse University in 1963, when Fine was student manager of the basketball team. Fine graduated in 1967 with a degree in personal and industrial relations and went into business for himself.

In 1970, Fine was named basketball and football coach at Lincoln Junior High in Syracuse and went to Henninger High School the next year as the junior varsity basketball coach. He became varsity basketball coach in 1975. When Boeheim was chosen to succeed Roy Danforth at Syracuse in 1976 Boeheim offered Fine a job as an assistant.

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.

The Post-Standard also reported that Zach Tomaselli was invited by Fine to a party at his home after the Syracuse-Pitt game on Feb. 1, 2003 -- a game where Zach Tomaselli said Fine arranged seats for him and his father several rows behind the bench.

Tomaselli told the newspaper his father, who was unable to attend the party, allowed him to go to Fine's house and stay the night.

While there, Tomaselli told the AP, Fine asked him to get into bed and that Fine's wife, Laurie, was there when it happened.

"I told them (police) that Laurie was standing right there when Bernie asked me to sleep in a bed. Laurie knew all about it," he said during the phone interview.

Davis also acknowledged in the ESPN interview 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 recorded 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.

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.

"... And I'd try to go away, and he'd put his arm on top of my chest. He goes, 'If you want this money, you'll stay right here,' " Davis said.

"Right. Right," she said. "He just has a nasty attitude, because he didn't get his money, nor did he get what he wanted."

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.

New York State Police spokesman Jack Keller said troopers were called to assist the U.S. attorney's office at the search. At least six police vehicles were parked on the street during the search, which lasted around nine hours. Officers carted away three file cabinets and a computer for further examination.

Information from ESPN reporters Mark Schwarz and Arty Berko and The Associated Press was used in this report.

EDITORS' PICKS

  • Idz A Bad Hire
    John Idzik, who called Percy Harvin "a potential coup," has been anything but the past two years.
  • JPP: We Can Go 9-0
    Jason Pierre-Paul made quite a bold prediction while meeting with media Monday.
  • New Kidd On The Block
    Fisher follows Jason Kidd's footsteps to the sideline with a resource Kidd never had.
  • Let's Go Shopping
    While it doesn't appear Hal Steinbrenner will buy, let's browse the shelves a bit.
  • The Matchups To Watch
    Buster Olney breaks down 10 keys matchups in the World Series. StoryInsider

ALSO SEE