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No indication of criminal fraud yet in Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o gives the thumbs up

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o gives the thumbs up to a teammate before a game against Boston College in Boston. (Nov. 10, 2012) Credit: AP

It is no crime to have an imaginary friend.

Specifically, in the bizarre case of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and the woman who didn't exist, unless it can be established that someone was guilty of intentional fraud, resulting in a financial impact on someone, no legal ramifications exist.

"I was talking to my wife about this," said Northeastern University law professor Roger Abrams, who has written extensively on sports and law, "and she said, 'Maybe there was a plan [aimed at Te'o] to have a fund established that would bring in money to cure the disease that killed this fictitious woman . . . '

"I said, 'Yep, then it would be fraud.' But we haven't heard anything about money being involved in this."

Still in its early stages of public disclosure, the peculiar Te'o story (which best fits into some sort of fantasy football category) of his "girlfriend" Lennay Kekua not existing leaves Abrams with "only one way to treat this. As a joke."

Te'o said that he was told Kekua died of leukemia within six hours of his grandmother's passing, and that helped inspire him to play his best all the way to a No. 1 ranking for Notre Dame and a spot in the BCS national championship game.

It remains plausible that Te'o was duped and the "joke could accrue to his financial detriment," Abrams supposed, by causing Te'o to be picked later than previously expected in the NFL draft this April, thereby shrinking his contract asking price in the pros.

But the connection would be virtually impossible to prove. Notre Dame, theoretically, could have its reputation damaged as well -- how could it have a student so easily fooled, or part of the hoax himself? -- possibly affecting enrollment negatively. Again, mighty difficult to corroborate.

"My thoughts ran to, 'This was all hatched by Alabama as a way to put him off his game' " in the national championship showdown, Abrams said. "But the payoff to the teams is equal, no matter who wins." So there is nothing against the law there, either.

And to be looking for something, he added, "I think we're stretching it."

Not that this case is rested yet.


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