Manti Te'o was talking to man
The woman whose picture was used to create Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend has been identified, but the voice of the woman who had hours of late-night phone calls with the Notre Dame star linebacker has remained silent. Turns out that's because it reportedly was a man.
The lawyer for the man who has been identified as behind the hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, told the New York Daily News that his client disguised his voice and assumed the identity of Lennay Kekua to try to develop a relationship with Te'o.
Milton Grimes said that Te'o "thought it was a female he was talking with. It was Ronaiah as Lennay."
Te'o appeared on Katie Couric's television show, "Katie," this week to explain his role in the hoax. He also supplied voice mails to the program that he says are from the person whom he thought was Kekua. Although the quality of the recording is not great on all of the clips, the voice does sound feminine.
"It didn't sound like a man," Te'o told Couric during the interview that aired Thursday. "It sounded like a woman. It's incredible that he can make that noise."
Tuiasosopo, 22, has had dramatic training, plays in a Christian band and even auditioned last year for the television show "The Voice."
"Come on, Hollywood does it all the time," Grimes said of his client pretending to be a woman. "People can do that."
Couric asked Te'o what he would say to Tuiasosopo.
"I would just say you hurt me," Te'o said.
Grimes said that Tuiasosopo wasn't trying to hurt Te'o.
"This wasn't a prank to make fun," Grimes said, according to the Daily News. "It was establishing a communication with someone. ... It was a person with a troubled existence trying to reach out and communicate and have a relationship."
According to Te'o, Tuiasosopo called him to confess and apologize shortly before the story broke Jan. 16.
"He didn't say why; he just explained he wanted to help people," Te'o said. "It was his way of helping people."
Grimes wouldn't characterize the type of relationship Tuiasosopo wanted with the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
"I wouldn't describe his issues at this time," he said, according to the newspaper.
One theory for the hoax is that Te'o was trying to cover up a homosexual relationship. Couric asked Te'o if he was gay.
"No, far from it," he said. "Faaaaarrrr from it."
The ruse apparently worked on many, many hours on the phone. A source close to Te'o gave ESPN's Jeremy Schaap documents that the source says are Te'o's AT&T phone records from May 11 to Sept. 12, the date Kekua supposedly died of leukemia. The logs are not originals, but rather spreadsheets sent via emails, and could not be independently verified.
The records show that in the four-month span -- when Te'o has said he believed Kekua to be in a Los Angeles hospital recovering from an accident and being treated for cancer -- Te'o made and received more than 1,000 calls totaling more than 500 hours in length from the same number in the 661 area code. The 661 area code covers Lancaster, Calif., which is part of Los Angeles County. The source told Schaap that Te'o believed the 661 phone number in question was Kekua's.
Of these calls, 110 were more than 60 minutes in length, including several that were several hundred minutes long. In an ESPN interview Friday, and in interviews with both ESPN and Sports Illustrated last fall, Te'o said he was on the phone "every single night" with a person he believed to be Kekua, often for long stretches late at night.
On Friday, he said to Schaap in an off-camera interview: "I'd be on the phone. And she had complications from the accident and she said the only thing that could help her sleep was if I was on the phone. So I would be on the phone, and I'd have the phone on the whole night."
From the records, it does not appear that Te'o was on the phone every night for the entire night, but the volume of calls and their duration are sizable.
At times during the Couric interview, Te'o and his parents all broke into tears.
"It was a difficult conversation," said his mother, Ottilia Te'o. "It took him a while to say it. He basically said, 'Lennay's alive.' It was complete, utter shock. The reason I say that is because the belief in this person, the deception, wasn't only with Manti ... We followed the same pattern as Manti."
Te'o's parents said it was difficult to hear his son being called a liar.
"If they're saying Manti lied about something, they might as well say we lied about it today," said his father, Brian Te'o. "... The story was reality for us. ... I'm proud of this guy, I really am. ...
"He's a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man. And I love him. I really do."
Te'o told Couric he initially lied about meeting Kekua in person to get his parents' approval.
"The biggest lie I'm sorry for is the lie that I told my dad," Te'o said. "He asked me, 'Did you see her?' I said, 'No. ... I mean, yes.' "
Meanwhile, the woman whose photo was used as the "face" of the Twitter account of Te'o's supposed girlfriend made an appearance Wednesday, saying the man allegedly behind the hoax confessed and apologized to her.
Diane O'Meara told NBC's "Today" show that Tuiasosopo used pictures of her without her knowledge in creating Kekua.
O'Meara also said that she had been asked to send pictures of her showing support for Tuiasosopo's cousin, whom he said had been injured in a car crash, by holding up a sign saying "MSMK." Asked why she would send the photo, she said, "We're raised to be polite," and added that she almost would have felt guilty if she hadn't sent it.
The original Deadspin.com story on the hoax reported a similar scenario and posted similar photos, although O'Meara was not identified by name at that time. The site reported that the "MSMK" photo was briefly used as a Twitter avatar and background for a Kekua account.
But that is not the only way it appears to have been used. In Te'o's interview with Schaap on Friday night, Te'o said he explicitly requested such a photo of Kekua after she re-emerged Dec. 6. He asked that the photo have her initials (Lennay is a nickname) held up to the camera to prove to him she was who she said.
"So I told her, 'OK, take another picture. And this time I want you to hold a paper up with your initials, MSMK . . . the date and you throwing up the sign,' " Te'o said during the 2½-hour interview.
It is unclear whether it is actually O'Meara holding the sign with the date Dec. 21 in the photo, or whether the image was altered via Photoshop.
O'Meara also said she doesn't know whether Te'o was involved, but "if Manti is truly innocent, I empathize with him."
Information from ESPN's Jeremy Schaap and The Associated Press was used in this report.