Combined wires and Internet reports
If Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was duped by people who got him to believe he had a girlfriend who turned out not to exist, he apparently would not be the first person to be victimized.
J.R. Vaosa, 28, of Torrance, Calif., and Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, 21, of Whittier, Calif., said on ESPN's "Outside the Lines'' that their cousin began an online romance in 2008 with a woman who portrayed herself as a model.
Vaosa said the cousin showed him a picture of the woman from a Victoria's Secret catalog on MySpace and that her name was Lennay Kukua, the same name of Te'o's supposed girlfriend.
Vaosa said he went with his cousin to meet the online Kekua at various places. But instead of Kekua, he told ESPN, they would be met by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man suspected of being behind the alleged Te'o hoax. "When Lennay said she was gonna be at this park one day, we'd go to the park and Ronaiah pops up and then we go to the gym in Orange County where the kids have volleyball tournaments, Ronaiah's there,'' Vaosa told ESPN.
The family finally convinced Vaosa's cousin that something wasn't right and that he needed to cut things off not only with Kekua but Tuiasosopo, whom they were convinced was the real Kekua, Tuioti-Mariner said.
Four years after that experience, the Te'o story sounded more than familiar to Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner, who read about Te'o's dying girlfriend.
"When I found out about the Samoan football player [and] his girlfriend, his grandma died the same day, I was like, 'Whoa, this is crazy.' I feel so bad for him, so I just looked him up,'' Vaosa said on "Outside the Lines.'' "I found out his girlfriend's name was Lennay Kekua. And right when I read the name Lennay Kekua, I immediately thought of Ronaiah. Then I thought of my cousin -- that this has to be the same person.''
A female friend of Tuiasosopo told "Outside the Lines'' that he called her in early December and tearfully admitted to playing a hoax on Teo. The friend, in her mid-20s, agreed to be interviewed on the condition that she remain anonymous because of fears for the safety of her family.
"He [Tuiasosopo] told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim . . . The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie,'' the female friend said. "He was crying, he was literally crying, he's like, 'I know, I know what I have to do.' It's not only Manti, but he was telling me that it's a lot of other people they had done this to.''
Tuiasosopo's friend told ESPN that Tuiasosopo admitted to having his female cousin speak to Te'o over the phone.
Te'o said in an interview with ESPN Friday night, "I wasn't faking it. I wasn't part of this.''
Regarding questions about whether he purposely misled fans and the media to bolster his Heisman chances, he said, "When [people] hear the facts, they'll know. They'll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.''
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said earlier Friday that the school has encouraged Te'o to speak publicly -- and soon.
"I don't have any specific knowledge as to how and when, but I can't fathom a circumstance where it doesn't [happen],'' Swarbrick said. "I sort of share everybody's view that it has to happen. We are certainly encouraging it to happen. We think it's important and we'd like to see it happen sooner rather than later.''