Syracuse University, Basketball Coach Boeheim Are Sued in Sex-Abuse Case

Syracuse University and its head basketball coach, Jim Boeheim, were sued by two men claiming “years of sexual molestation” at the hands of former assistant coach Bernie Fine.

Robert “Bobby” Davis, 39, of Onondaga County, New York, and his stepbrother Michael Lang, of Oswego County, who both served as ball boys for the Syracuse basketball program, filed a complaint today in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Fine was sued on Dec. 8 in Pennsylvania state court by Zach Tomaselli, who said he was abused by the coach as a 13-year-old in a Pittsburgh hotel room.

“The sexual abuse occurred in Fine’s office at Manley Field House, a short distance from (and for years, next door to) Boeheim’s office,” lawyers for Davis and Lang said in the lawsuit. “It occurred on team trips to other cities for away games, including when the team attended and participated in the Final Four; it occurred at a fraternity house on campus where Fine was a supervisor; and it occurred in Fine’s car and in his home.”

Syracuse fired Fine, who was in his 36th season at the upstate New York university, on Nov. 27 after he was accused of sexually abusing the two former ball boys. Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said on Dec. 8 that Fine won’t face charges related to those allegations because the claims are too old to prosecute.

Syracuse University

Scott McDowell, a spokesman for Syracuse University, said in a e-mail that the school is declining to comment on the lawsuit.

Ted Feeley, a spokesman for the Syracuse athletic department, declined to comment on the lawsuit. William Albert, a spokesman for Harris Beach Pllc, a Pittsford, New York-based law firm representing Fine, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. Fine has denied wrongdoing.

Davis tried to report Fine’s behavior for years, calling Syracuse police in 2002, e-mailing Chancellor Nancy Cantor in 2005 and notifying both Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and a local newspaper, according to the lawsuit.

The university started a probe of the allegations in 2005, yet the investigation was “conducted by a law firm that had a clear interest in ensuring the university’s spotless reputation and it quickly concluded that the allegations were unfounded,” according to the complaint.

ESPN Report

Before Fine was fired, ESPN played what the network said was a 2002 recording of a telephone conversation that it said appeared to be Fine’s wife, Laurie, speaking with Davis and acknowledging her husband’s behavior.

After the ESPN report, the university’s response, through Boeheim, was “swift and certain,” as the coach told members of the national news media that the men were “lying and just seeking a payday,” according to the lawsuit.

“Those public, official statements were not just false and defamatory,” lawyers for the former ball boys wrote in the complaint. “The statements epitomize the epic, years-long failure by Boeheim and the university to take even basic, simple steps to ensure that boys and teens -- who themselves dedicated countless hours of unpaid work to assist the team that Boeheim led -- would not be abused and victimized by a man whose power and influence flowed directly from the basketball program.”

Davis, Lang

Fine began abusing Davis in 1983, when Fine made him a ball boy at age 11, and also abused Lang, whom the coach met when he began delivering newspapers to Fine’s home, according to the complaint. Lang is 5 1/2 years older than Davis, according to the complaint.

“Throughout the two decades that Bobby Davis observed, including when Fine was an unmarried man, Fine consistently surrounded himself with boys, all of whom looked up to him as a basketball coach at Syracuse University, and who sought any opportunity to attend games or meet players through Fine,” Davis and Lang said.

Fitzpatrick said Fine likely would have been arrested if Davis’s allegations had been thoroughly investigated in 2002.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the defendants to pay special, compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

The case is Davis v. Syracuse University, 113967/2011, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net

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

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