Federal authorities have dropped their investigation into sexual abuse allegations involving former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine. The decision comes nearly one year after two former team ballboys accused Fine of molesting them when they were teenagers.
U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian said Friday there was insufficient evidence to support a claim that Fine molested a boy in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002, the Associated Press reports.
“The nature and seriousness of these allegations, which involved conduct typically committed in private with individuals who are reluctant to come forward, warranted a thorough federal investigation,” Hartunian said.
Syracuse fired Fine on Nov. 27 in the wake of the accusations, which came shortly after the scandal involving convicted child abuser and former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky broke last fall.
Former Syracuse ballboys Bobby Davis and Michael Lang, his step-brother, came forward with the accusations against Fine on last Nov. 17. Those claims were beyond the statute of limitations, but 10 days later when 23-year-old Zachary Tomaselli, of Lewiston, Maine, accused Fine of molesting him in 2002, authorities began their probe. On the same day, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” aired an audio recording in which Fine’s wife, Laurie, acknowledges that she was aware of the abuse he alleged. Laurie Fine has since filled a defamation lawsuit against ESPN.
Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim strongly defended Fine when the initial claims surfaced and suggested that Davis and Lang were seeking to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the Sandusky scandal to obtain money. Boeheim later apologized for his remarks and commended the university for investigating the claims.
In late November, a fourth man, 56-year-old Floyd VanHooser, told the Syracuse Post-Standard that Fine has pressured him and paid him for oral sex during a 40-year period in which VanHooser lived with Fine on and off. VanHooser later admitted that “none of what I said was true” in a letter to Fine also received by the Post-Standard.
Last April, Tomasselli, who is serving a three-year prison sentence in Maine for sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy at a summer camp, recanted in a series of e-mails to CNYCentral.com, saying he had fabricated his allegations, that he had never met Fine and that “it was a game to me.” Later, Tomasselli changed his story again and said Fine had in fact molested him.
“The damage inflicted upon Bernie and his family is simply immeasurable,” Fine’s lawyers, Karl Sleight, Donald Martin and David Botsford said in a statement Friday (via the Associated Press). “Bernie hopes and prays that the lesson learned and remembered is that a rush to judgment has irreversible consequences.”