Syracuse Sex Abuse Claims Too Old for Prosecution, District Attorney Says

Former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine won’t face sexual abuse charges because the allegations are too old to allow prosecution, the Onondaga County district attorney said.

Had the allegations of a former ball boy been thoroughly investigated in 2002, they would have likely resulted in Fine’s arrest, District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said. Fine has denied any wrongdoing. He was fired from the school on Nov. 27.

“There is no doubt in my mind that if presented with these two victims today and had the statute of limitations not run there would be criminal charges against Bernie Fine,” Fitzpatrick said during a press conference.

Syracuse fired Fine, in his 36th season at the school, after he was accused of sexually abusing two former ball boys. The firing came after Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ESPN played what the network said was a 2002 recording of a telephone conversation that it said appeared to be Fine’s wife, Laurie, acknowledging her husband’s behavior.

The two former ball boys were the first to accuse Fine of molesting them. Bobby Davis, now 39, contacted police in 2002 and said Fine abused him when he was in seventh grade. Davis’s stepbrother Mike Lang, now 45, made his allegations this year, saying he was abused by Fine when he was in fifth or sixth grade, according to ESPN.

Third Person

The third person to come forward, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli, said that Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room. That allegation is being investigated by federal authorities, Fitzpatrick said. Evidence related to that case will be turned over to the U.S. Attorney and defense attorneys, Fitzpatrick said. He disputed media reports of a possible fourth victim.

Federal investigators will also be interviewing Laurie Fine about her knowledge of her husband’s activities, Fitzpatrick said.

“If the statute of limitations had not run, Laurie Fine certainly would have been investigated for endangering the welfare of a child,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fine’s attorneys, Donald Martin and Karl Sleight, today thanked Fitzpatrick for “fulfilling his ethical obligations” and said that they’re looking forward to reviewing these “exculpatory materials.”

‘There Is Proof’

“It appears now that there is proof that Tomaselli fabricated this allegation,” the lawyers said in an e-mailed statements. “The incredible damage that Tomaselli has inflicted on Fine cannot be overstated.”

Justin Leary, an attorney for Tomaselli, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the statement by Fine’s lawyers.

The allegations against Fine follow charges against former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky for allegedly molesting eight boys during a 15-year period. Football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier were fired amid criticism they didn’t do enough to prevent the crimes. Neither was charged with a crime. Sandusky faces a preliminary hearing next week in the case.

Additional charges against him related to two new accusers were announced today by Pennsylvania’s attorney general.

Fitzpatrick said any comparisons between the incidents at the two schools would be unfair as there was no coverup or institutional failure at Syracuse.

“The PSU-SU comparison is not only inaccurate, it’s not fair,” Fitzpatrick said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sophia Pearson in Philadelphia at spearson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.