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Bernie Fine: Allegations Are ‘Patently False’

(credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine says allegations that he molested two former ball boys for years are “patently false.”

The school placed Fine on administrative leave Thursday “in light of the new allegations” and an investigation by the Syracuse City Police.

In a statement released by one of his attorneys Friday, Fine said the allegations have been thoroughly investigated multiple times and that he has fully cooperated with past inquiries.

“Sadly, we live in an allegation-based society and an internet age where in a matter of minutes one’s lifelong reputation can be severely damaged. I am confident that, as in the past, a review of these allegations will be discredited and restore my reputation. I hope the latest review of these allegations will be conducted expeditiously.

“Finally, I appreciate (Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s) statement that I should be accorded a fair opportunity to defend myself against these accusations. I fully intend to do so. There should never be a rush to judgment when someone’s personal integrity and career are on the line.”

Cantor vowed Friday that the school will not turn a blind eye to child molesting allegations that resurfaced just two weeks after the Penn State scandal.

ESPN reported the accusations were made by two former ball boys.

Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine allegedly molested him beginning in 1984 and that the sexual contact continued until he was around 27. A ball boy for six years, Davis told ESPN the alleged abuse occurred at Fine’s home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four.

Davis’ stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine molested him starting while he was in fifth or sixth grade.

Fine is in his 35th season as a Syracuse assistant. No one answered the door at his home Friday.

“We hold everyone in our community to high standards and we don’t tolerate illegal, abusive or unethical behavior — no matter who you are,” Cantor said in an email Friday morning to students, faculty and staff.

“The dilemma in any situation like this, of course, is that — without corroborating facts, witnesses or confessions — one must avoid an unfair rush to judgment. We have all seen terrible injustices done to the innocent accused of heinous crimes. And we’ve all seen situations where the guilty avoid justice. “

Syracuse police spokesman Tom Connellan says Syracuse University did not contact police in 2005 when the school was informed of allegations of “inappropriate contact” by an associate men’s basketball coach.

In an email Friday morning to students, faculty and staff, Cantor repeated that the school was contacted in 2005 by “an adult male who asserted that he had reported allegations in 2005 of abuse in the 1980′s and 1990′s to the police” and that the accuser told the school police had declined to pursue it because the statute of limitations had expired.

She said the school conducted its own four-month investigation at that time, including interviews with people the accuser said would support his allegations, but that all of them “denied any knowledge of wrongful conduct” by the associate coach.

In an email to The Associated Press, Kevin Quinn, the school’s senior vice president for public affairs, said that when the school learned of the allegations in 2005, “it had already been reported to the Syracuse City Police and was already addressed within the criminal justice process.”

“Therefore, the police would have notified the District Attorney’s Office if appropriate under the circumstances. Nevertheless, we immediately launched our own investigation of our employee to determine the facts. If that investigation had revealed any evidence or corroboration of the allegations or any criminal conduct, we would have reported it to the authorities immediately.”

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick has vowed to conduct a complete investigation. He was out of town, and the AP was unable to reach him for comment.

Fitzpatrick told The Post-Standard that prosecutors were never notified when Syracuse police were told of the complaints back in 2002 or 2003 and when the university conducted its own investigation of the allegations in 2005.

Prior to Aug. 5, 2008, when New York’s law changed and the statute of limitations was eliminated, prosecutions for felony sex abuse of a child had to begin within five years after authorities learned about it or within five years after the child turned 18.

Paul DerOhannesian, defense attorney and former Albany County prosecutor, said the five-year statute of limitations has clearly passed for any crimes in this case if they took place in New York. But any out-of-state incidents during basketball road trips would be subject to the laws of those states, which might not have those limits, he said.

DerOhannesian said the prosecutor also can bring information and witnesses before a grand jury to do a fact-finding report and recommend changes in the law. “In the course of that investigation, if people lie you then have criminal offenses which are timely,” he said.

Those reports also create records should an individual be accused of future crimes, which might be admissible then, and also put an institution on notice of potential liability should there be any future allegations, he said.

Both ESPN and The Post-Standard of Syracuse said they first investigated Davis’ accusations in 2003 but decided not to run a story because there was no independent evidence to corroborate the allegations.

Davis told ESPN that Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim knew he was traveling on the road and sleeping in Fine’s room.

“Boeheim saw me with Bernie all the time in the hotel rooms, on road trips,” Davis said. “He’d come in, and see me laying in the bed, kind of glance at me like, ‘What are you doing here?’ But he wouldn’t say that. He’d just scowl. And I would look at him like, I’d be nervous. I felt embarrassed ’cause I felt stupid that I’m there. I’m not supposed to be here. I know it, and Boeheim’s not stupid.”

In a telephone interview Thursday night with the AP, Boeheim defended Fine: “This kid came forward and there was no one to corroborate his story. Not one. Not one. … They said I walked into Bernie’s room on the road and saw this. I have never walked into Bernie’s room on the road. This isn’t true. This just isn’t true.”

In an on-camera interview with ESPN, Davis said he was sexually abused “hundreds of times.” When asked why he didn’t come forward during the 16 years he accuses Fine of molesting him, Davis said: “I honestly didn’t think anybody would believe me.”

Robert Edelman, a mental health counselor who is CEO of the Village Counseling Center in Gainesville, Fla., says it’s rare, in cases of child sex abuse, that the abuse or a sexual relationship extends past childhood.

“Many victims do continue to have relationships with their perpetrators but are able to stop the abuse from continuing when they realize they have control and can protect themselves,” he said. “Usually, when children get older, learn new skills and clearly recognize that the sexual abuse is inappropriate and not their fault, they develop ways to get away from the perpetrator.”

“Unfortunately, many victims do blame themselves and believe they could have stopped the abuse when they could not have,” Edelman added. “In rare cases in which the abuse continues into adulthood, these victims are even more confused, blame themselves more intensely and feel even more helpless, especially when they came forward as children and the abuse did not stop.”

Mark Chaffin, pediatrics professor who is research director at the University of Oklahoma’s Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, says these types of cases “are not common, but they do happen.”

He cited incest cases where a father molests his daughter or step-daughter for years in the context of a dominating and controlling relationship.

“In these cases, there may be almost a sort of learned helplessness in which the victim feels powerless to stop what is happening or to say no,” Chaffin said.

“This can even be complicated by the fact that, in some instances, the victim may come to initiate sexual behavior. Still not what one would describe as a happy relationship or a love affair, and the relationship often retains a clearly exploitive stain carried forward from its abusive origins.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)