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DA: Syracuse claims too old to prosecute

Published December 7, 2011 4:49 pm

College Basketball • But claims of men who accused Fine are credible
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Syracuse, New York • A county prosecutor who has sharply criticized police and Syracuse University for their handling of sex-abuse allegations against an assistant basketball coach said Wednesday that two men who accused the coach of sexual abuse are credible but their claims are too old to prosecute.

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

The 65-year-old Fine, who had been Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim's top assistant since 1976, has adamantly denied wrongdoing. He was fired Nov. 27.

The accusations against Fine once appeared to threaten the job of Boeheim, who has said he was unaware of any abuses happening during his tenure. Boeheim turned the once obscure upstate New York school into a basketball powerhouse, much like Paterno turned Penn State into a football power.

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 child sex abuse scandal. He later backtracked and said he was wrong to question the motives of the accusers.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said Wednesday that 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."

On a third accuser, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli, Fitzpatrick said he has turned over school records and team travel records that may call into question Tomaselli's claim that Fine abused him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel when the team played a road game there. He called the records "exculpatory," which is evidence that helps the defense.

Fine's lawyers say the records appear to prove Tomaselli lied.

Tomaselli is one of three men who accuse Fine of molesting them when they were boys. Tomaselli's claims are the only ones among the three that are eligible for prosecution within the statute of limitations.

Tomaselli's phone rang unanswered Wednesday.

Davis and Lang, both former ballboys for the team, have accused Fine of molesting them when they were boys. Fitzpatrick said allegations from Tomaselli, of Maine, don't relate to his jurisdiction, Onondaga County.

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.

Fitzpatrick said Syracuse police should have done more to encourage Davis to come forward almost a decade ago.

In 2002, Davis told Detective Doug Fox that Fine had molested him. Fox told Davis any crimes in the late 1980s had happened too long before to bring charges but said police could reopen the probe if Davis came forward with more recent allegations or accusers.

Davis didn't come forward in person with any later accusations and no report was ever opened.

Fitzpatrick said then-Chief Dennis DuVal, a Syracuse basketball star in the 1970s, made a "judgment call" that a file wouldn't be opened because any charges would be misdemeanors on which the statute of limitations had expired and that the accusations would forever alter Fine's life even if they were false.

Fitzpatrick was highly critical of police and the university two weeks ago, saying they should have notified his office of any allegations of sexual abuse. He softened somewhat on Wednesday, calling the university's 2005 investigation inadequate but insisting there was no indication anybody tried to cover up the claims.

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.