NEW YORK (WFAN / WCBS 880 / AP) — Just two weeks after Penn State was rocked by a child sex-abuse scandal, Syracuse police said they were investigating child molesting allegations against a longtime assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University.
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The school placed Bernie Fine on administrative leave Thursday night “in light of the new allegations and the Syracuse City Police investigation.”
The accusations were made by two former ball boys.
Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN 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 the network 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, said that Fine molested him starting while he was in fifth or sixth grade.
Syracuse police spokesman Tom Connellan said the inquiry is in its early stages.
“It’s information that came to us today,” Connellan said, declining to identify who provided it. Fine is in his 35th season as an assistant to coach Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse, meanwhile, said it had conducted its own investigation years ago and couldn’t find witnesses to corroborate the allegations.
“On hearing of the allegations, the University immediately launched its own comprehensive investigation through its legal counsel,” Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor said in a statement. ”At the end of the investigation, as we were unable to find any corroboration of the allegations, the case was closed. Had any evidence or corroboration of earlier allegations surfaced—even if the Police had declined to pursue the matter —we would have acted.”
Boeheim also issued a statement.
“This matter was fully investigated by the university in 2005 and it was determined that the allegations were unfounded,” Boeheim said.
“I have known Bernie Fine for more than 40 years,” he added. “I have never seen or witnessed anything to suggest that he would (have) been involved in any of the activities alleged. Had I seen or suspected anything, I would have taken action. Bernie has my full support.”
Davis said that 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.”
ESPN said it first investigated the accusations in 2003, but decided not to run the story because there was no independent evidence to corroborate the allegations. Recently, a second man contacted the network, alleging that Fine also molested him. That person said he decided to come forward after seeing the Penn State coverage.
The Post-Standard said it, too, held off in 2003 for the same reason.
Kevin Quinn, the school’s senior vice president for public affairs, said in a statement: “Syracuse University takes any allegation of this sort extremely seriously and has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. If any evidence or corroboration of the allegations had surfaced, we would have terminated the associate coach and reported it to the police immediately. We understand that the Syracuse City Police has now reopened the case, and Syracuse University will cooperate fully. We are steadfastly committed ensuring that SU remains a safe place for every member of our campus community.”
Quinn said Syracuse was contacted in 2005 by “an adult male who told us that he had reported to the Syracuse City Police that he had been subjected to inappropriate contact by an associate men’s basketball coach.”
“We were informed by the complainant that the Syracuse City Police had declined to pursue the matter because the statute of limitations had expired,” Quinn said.
Quinn 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” and that the coach also denied the allegations.
Chancellor Cantor emailed students, faculty and staff Friday morning: “We hold everyone in our community to high standards and we don’t tolerate illegal, abusive or unethical behavior — no matter who you are.”
Davis said he felt bitter emotions after sex scandals emerged in the Catholic Church and, lately, with the allegations and charges against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
In the Penn State case, Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. The case cost Joe Paterno his job, and former school administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are charged with not properly alerting authorities to suspected abuse and perjury.
“This kid came forward and there was no one to corroborate his story,” Boeheim told the AP Thursday night. “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.”
Former Syracuse center Rony Seikaly, who worked closely with Fine throughout his college career and exchanged text messages with him just Wednesday, told the AP he refuses to believe the allegations.
“Bernie would never do such a thing,” Seikaly said in a telephone interview in Miami. “I vouch for Bernie. There is no way something like this could ever happen in my eyes. No way.”
Seikaly said he questions why the ball boy would come forward again now, adding that he believes the headlines generated by the scandal at Penn State may have been a motivating factor.
“Completely ridiculous,” Seikaly said. “Do people want a quick buck or something? I spent four years with Bernie, every single day. I know what kind of guy he is. He’s just a very helpful guy. He was the glue to Syracuse basketball. He’s still the glue 20 years later when you’re already gone. He keeps in touch with every single player. He’s that kind of guy.”
In her statement, Cantor said the school won’t turn a blind eye to child molesting allegations.
“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.
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