Manti Te'o. (USA TODAY Sports)
David Leon Moore, USA TODAY Sports
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the California man suspected of being behind the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, confessed in early December to fooling the Notre Dame star linebacker, a friend of Te'o told ESPN in an interview.
The friend, identified by ESPN as a woman in her mid-20s, insisted on anonymity because she said she is fearful for her family's safety because of the widespread media attention the story has created. She did not allow for her voice to be recorded, according to ESPN.
She said Tuiasosopo cried when he told her how he had played what he said was at first "a game" on the unsuspecting Te'o. She said he told her he had done similar "catfishing" -- creating a fictional online personna in order to fake a relationship -- multiple times before.
"He (Ronaiah) told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. ... The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie," said the woman. "He was crying, he was literally crying, he's like 'I know, I know what I have to do.'
"It's not only Manti, but he was telling me that it's a lot of other people they had done this to."
Notre Dame and Te'o have both said that Te'o was the victim of an elaborate, cruel hoax that led him to believe he was in love with a woman named Lennay Kekua, who then supposedly died of leukemia, leaving Te'o grief-stricken.
Tuiasosopo's friend told ESPN that Tuiasosopo admitted to having his female cousin speak to Te'o over the phone.
ESPN interviewed two other people who said they have a cousin who had the same online hoax pulled on them by Tuiasosopo.
J.R. Vaosa, 28, of Torrance, Calif., and Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, 21, of Whittier, Calif., said that in 2008 their cousin began an online romance with a woman who portrayed herself as a model. Vaosa said the cousin showed Vaosa a picture on MySpace of a woman from a Victoria's Secret catalog that he said was Kekua. Vaosa said that the online Kekua would agree to meet his cousin at certain places. Vaosa said he went with the cousin to meet her.
"When Lennay said she was gonna be at this park one day, we'd go to the park and Ronaiah pops up and then we go to the gym in Orange County where the kids have volleyball tournaments, Ronaiah's there," Vaosa said.
Finally, the family convinced Vaosa's cousin that something wasn't right and he needed to cut things off not only with Kekua, but Tuiasosopo, whom they were convinced was the real Kekua, Tuioti-Mariner said.
"I just knew that my cousin would invite her to certain events and Lennay would always say she would go to those things, but she would never end up going and instead of her going we would see Ronaiah," Tuioti-Mariner told ESPN.
Then this fall, Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner saw the story of Te'o's dying girlfriend.
"When I found out about the Samoan football player (and) his girlfriend, his Grandma died the same day, I was like, 'Whoa this is crazy,' I feel so bad for him, so I just looked him up," Vaosa said. "I found out his girlfriend's name was Lennay Kekua. And right when I read the name Lennay Kekua, I immediately thought of Ronaiah. Then I thought of my cousin -- that this has to be the same person."
After Deadspin.com broke the story on the Te'o hoax, Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner say reporters came to their door and they say threats were made to them and their families on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the woman who says Tuiasosopo confessed to her told ESPN she has urged Tuiasosopo to take responsibility for his actions.
She said he called her Wednesday as the news of the hoax was breaking. She says he sounded calm but she worries about his guilt over what he did to Te'o and what he did to his family name, one of the most prominent in all of Polynesian sports. She worries what he might do to himself.
"I (still) am worried for him (Ronaiah), not just him and his family but I know that you can't judge people like that and that's why I continue to just encourage (him) to come out and tell the truth," she said.
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