By Steve Kallas
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Another explosive, very sad situation going on up in Syracuse, New York. Bernie Fine, 36-year assistant basketball coach to Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim at Syracuse University, was fired (after previously being placed on administrative leave) after a third person came forth with allegations of sexual abuse by Fine. Also contributing to the mess was a bizarre tape of a conversation between original accuser Bobby Davis and Fine’s wife, Laurie, which, at a minimum, seems to confirm that something terrible happened between Bernie Fine and Davis.
You probably know most of the allegations and time-line by now. In 2002, former Syracuse ball boy Bobby Davis tells Syracuse police that he was subject to inappropriate contact by Fine during the 1980s and ‘90s. He was told (correctly, at the time) that the statute of limitations had run out.
In 2005, Davis reports the allegations to Syracuse University. The University conducts its own investigation but is unable to corroborate the claims. Indeed, at that time, Mike Lang, Davis’s stepbrother who would later come forth with similar allegations, denied that anything inappropriate had happened when questioned in 2005.
On November 17, 2011, both Davis (now 39) and Lang (now 45) appear on ESPN and state that Fine had inappropriately touched their genital areas at various times in the 1980s and ‘90s. Davis states he was inappropriately touched from 1984 until about 1999 (important for statute of limitations grounds).
In the next few days, Fine vehemently denies the allegations and Jim Boeheim gives his famous “it’s a bunch of a thousand lies” statements.
This past Sunday (November 27, 2011), a bizarre tape is made public by ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard. In that 2002 tape, Laurie Fine, being legally taped by Davis from his home in Utah (Laurie Fine was in New York), seems to say she knows about Bernie’s “issues,” that he should have gotten a “gay boy” rather than Davis and even states that she knows “everything” that had happened. That night, Bernie Fine is fired.
The next day, Laurie Fine’s lawyer states that it is her voice on the tape, but that it has been tampered with and seems to show that Laurie Fine knew more than she really knew. That’s bizarre if you listen to the tape. Even if tampered with, there are some sentences that show that Laurie Fine probably knew that her husband liked boys and did inappropriate things with them.
In the interim, a third accuser, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli, claims that, in 2002, Bernie Fine had inappropriate contact with Tomaselli in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (date and location important for statute of limitations grounds). Tomaselli has his own issues, as he is presently charged with being a sexual molester himself. In addition, his father has already come out and said that his son is a liar and that his son never went to Pittsburgh with Bernie Fine. Pittsburgh police are now investigating the Tomaselli claims against Bernie Fine.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE JIM BOEHEIM?
Fascinating question but, as of this date, Jim Boeheim doesn’t seem to have had the knowledge that Joe Paterno had at Penn State. The question is almost always the same: What did Jim Boeheim know and when did he know it? Penn State is a very unusual case because there were actually eyewitnesses (at least Mike McQueary and a janitor) to the alleged abuse. At least one of them (McQueary) went to Joe Paterno and told him (exactly what he told Paterno remains in dispute).
Here, as of now, Jim Boeheim, who (initially) vehemently defended Fine (remember, the 2005 investigation yielded nothing), quickly backtracked after his initial, loyal reaction. It’s hard to believe that Boeheim really knew anything. If he did, why would he have come out to defend his friend of 50 years so vehemently, almost viciously, against the first two alleged victims?
Frankly, it doesn’t make sense if he had knowledge of these actions (again, other than accusations that resulted in no charges).
At this point, you simply can’t equate Boeheim with Paterno. In fact, it’s true that Syracuse police, Syracuse University, ESPN and the Post-Standard ALL looked into the matter and came up with nothing. Indeed, ESPN and the Post-Standard, but not the police and the University (bizarre, no?), actually had the tape years ago, but didn’t think it was corroborating evidence (while not admissible in a court of law, one could certainly make a case that the statements of Fine’s wife were corroborating evidence, at least in the court of public opinion).
So, at this point, unless evidence comes out that Boeheim had actual knowledge of things that actually happened (he says he never “witnessed” any of these alleged actions and that he had never been in Bernie Fine’s hotel room ever), it says here that Jim Boeheim can’t be painted with that broad brush that children’s advocates want to paint him with (i.e., he should be fired for his “insensitivity” to the victims).
Jim Boeheim is expected to address the media tonight, either before or after Syracuse’s home game at the Carrier Dome (against Eastern Michigan, 7 p.m. on SNY). It says here that he really shouldn’t say anything about the Fine charges (presumably he’s spoken to a lawyer), but nowadays you just don’t know what will happen when someone sticks a microphone in front of someone else.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY?
Well, somebody with some power (the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York and/or the Secret Service) will take a look at that 2005 investigation; both the quality of it and its findings. The Davis and Lang allegations happened so long ago that there is a good chance that all claims are time-barred. But the newer claim of Zach Tomaselli may bring some of this back into play.
Also, Syracuse had notice that something might be amiss in 2005. If their investigation is viewed to be a sham, that could open up the liability of the University (and, at least arguably, the potential liability of Jim Boeheim as Fine’s immediate superior).
PENNSYLVANIA LAW MIGHT ALLOW A PROSECUTION OF BERNIE FINE
The Pennsylvania statute of limitations in these kinds of claims is better for prosecutors. Today, in Pennsylvania, a special statute of limitations applies in the area of sexual offenses (including, but not limited to, aggravated assault, indecent assault, indecent exposure, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of minors and sexual abuse of children) that allows charges to be brought until the child victim is 50 years old.
While it will be difficult to win that prosecution because of Tomaselli’s issues discussed above, since Tomaselli is 23, at a minimum, Fine could be charged (depending on what he allegedly did and what the authorities believe they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt).
HERE COME THE FEDS
A federal investigation might also result in charges against Bernie Fine (the New York State statutes, even with recent amendments, probably still don’t allow the authorities to even charge Bernie Fine for something that allegedly happened in the 1980s and 1990s). With a 10-year statute of limitations in some situations, the search warrant for Bernie Fine’s home was obtained based on the Tomaselli claims (which, you will recall, are alleged to have occurred in 2002).
Indeed, the Secret Service is apparently involved because of their expertise in computer crimes (it was stated that at least one computer (among other things) was taken from Bernie Fine’s home recently when a search warrant was executed on Fine’s house)
Thus, there is a chance that Fine will be charged with federal felonies.
WILL OTHERS COME FORWARD?
Well, that wouldn’t be surprising. In the Penn State case, after eight victims were discussed in the grand jury presentment, 10 others came forward (according to the New York Times). If more come forward here, depending on when and where the alleged acts occurred, that could give rise to more potential charges against Bernie Fine. Today (as opposed to the 1980s and 1990s), in New York, for example, there is no statute of limitations under section 130.75 of the New York Penal Law (course of sexual conduct in the first degree).
Whether other possible crimes were committed remains to be seen.