SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim ran a closed practice Monday as sex abuse victims’ advocates questioned whether he should still coach following the firing of longtime assistant Bernie Fine, who has been accused of molestation by three men.
As criticism swirled about Boeheim’s initial support of Fine and his verbal attacks on the accusers, the coach kept a low profile, seeking refuge in his office on the second floor of the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.
Boeheim, who had been sharply critical of the accusers, has softened his stance 10 days after an impassioned defense of Fine, who spent 35 seasons on the bench next to Boeheim and was fired Sunday.
The Rev. Robert Hoatson, president of Road to Recovery, a group that supports victims of sexual abuse, said the dismissal of Bernie Fine was appropriate but didn’t go far enough.
“I think Jim Boeheim should be fired or resign as well,” Hoatson said Monday. “These boys were members of the basketball program. Jim Boeheim’s responsibility is to oversee that program, and the children were not safe on his watch.”
Two former Syracuse ball boys were the first to accuse Fine, who has called the allegations “patently false.” And a third man came forward last week, accusing Fine of molesting him nine years ago.
Bobby Davis, now 39, told ESPN that Fine 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 that the abuse occurred at Fine’s home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four. His stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a ball boy, told ESPN that Fine began molesting him while he was in fifth or sixth grade.
Zach Tomaselli, 23, of Lewiston, Maine, said Sunday he told police that Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room. Tomaselli, who faces sexual assault charges in Maine involving a 14-year-old boy, said Fine touched him “multiple” times in that one incident. During a telephone interview with The Associated Press, he said he signed an affidavit accusing Fine following a meeting with Syracuse police last week in Albany.
As supporters of victims of sex abuse called for Boeheim to be fired, university trustees were largely silent.
“I don’t have anything to say about this,” said trustee H. Douglas Barclay, who earned his law degree from Syracuse in 1961 and was a New York state senator for 20 years.
Reached in Naples, Fla., trustee Marvin Lender, class of 1963, referred all calls to Chancellor Nancy Cantor.
“It’s a policy, and I want to adhere to it,” he said.
Calls to several other trustees seeking comment were not returned.
The allegations against Fine surfaced a week after Penn State school trustees fired Joe Paterno in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who is accused in a grand jury indictment of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.
Amid that child sex-abuse scandal, Penn State’s trustees ousted Paterno and university President Graham Spanier. The trustees said Spanier and Paterno, who is not the target of any criminal investigation, failed to act after a graduate assistant claimed he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a young boy in a campus shower in 2002. And two school administrators were charged with not properly alerting authorities to suspected abuse and with perjury. They maintain their innocence.
The NCAA is monitoring developments.
“NCAA President Mark Emmert spoke today with Chancellor Nancy Cantor to let her know the NCAA is carefully monitoring the developments at Syracuse University, and Chancellor Cantor pledged her full cooperation in determining the facts,” the NCAA said in a statement Monday. “The accusations of child sexual abuse reported in the media involving a former assistant men’s basketball coach are deeply troubling. Furthermore, to have similar allegations involving coaches at two of the nation’s major universities saddens every member of the Association.
“As facts emerge, we will determine what actions may be necessary regarding NCAA bylaws. As always, criminal justice proceedings, if any, take precedence over any NCAA actions.”
When the allegations against Fine first became public Nov. 17, Boeheim adamantly defended his longtime assistant and attacked the accusers, saying he suspected they were trying get money.
“It is a bunch of a thousand lies that he has told,” Boeheim told ESPN, referring to Bobby Davis. “You don’t think it is a little funny that his cousin (relative) is coming forward?”
Those comments prompted a swift backlash from victims’ advocates, who were outraged by Boeheim’s attitude.
Ten days later, his stance had changed considerably.
In a statement released Sunday night after Fine’s firing, Boeheim expressed regret for his initial statements that might have been “insensitive to victims of abuse.”
“What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported to come forward so that the truth can be found,” Boeheim said in a statement released by the school. “I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.”
That apology did not appease all his critics.
Richard Tollner, a member of the New York Coalition to Protect Children, said even if the investigation finds Boeheim didn’t know anything before, during or after any abuses occurred, he should at least offer to quit. Tollner and other victims’ advocates have been sharply critical of comments Boeheim made when the scandal broke in which he said the accusers were lying to get money.
“We think he should offer his resignation to the Syracuse University Board and the let the board decide with a vote of confidence whether he should continue on or not,” said Tollner.
“Mr. Boeheim has a responsibility,” Tollner said. “He’s a leader. Kids follow what Jim Boeheim says these days. In that light, he should have been more responsible in his remarks.”
New York state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, a Queens Democrat who has passed legislation increasing the age from 23 to 28 to bring a claim of sexual abuse, said if an investigation shows Boeheim was aware of the allegations against Fine and did nothing, he should be removed.
“But if he wasn’t aware of it, and there was no way of him knowing about it, that’s a different set of circumstances,” Markey said.
On Sunday, ESPN also played an audiotape, obtained and recorded by Davis, of an October 2002 telephone conversation between him and Fine’s wife, Laurie.
Davis told ESPN he made the recording, which also has been given to Syracuse police, without her knowledge because he knew he needed proof for the police to believe his accusations. ESPN said it hired a voice recognition expert to verify the voice on the tape and the network said it was determined to be that of Laurie Fine.
During the call to the woman, Davis repeatedly asks her what she knew about the alleged molestation.
“Do you think I’m the only one that he’s ever done that to?” Davis asked.
“No … I think there might have been others but it was geared to … there was something about you,” the woman on the tape said.
On the tape, she also says she knew “everything that went on.”
“Bernie has issues, maybe that he’s not aware of, but he has issues. … And you trusted somebody you shouldn’t have trusted … ”
Federal authorities investigating Fine are not hampered by a statute of limitations should they turn up evidence Fine molested Tomaselli in Pittsburgh.
Under federal law passed in 2002, prosecutions for the sexual or physical abuse or kidnapping of a child under 18 can continue until the victim turned 25. Subsequent amendments changed that to the life of the child or 10 years after the offense, whichever is longer.
On Sunday, Tomaselli’s father said he was lying.
In a phone interview with the AP, Fred Tomaselli said: “I’m 100 percent sure that Bernie Fine was never in contact with Zach. He never went to Pittsburgh to a game, never been to that arena.”
Zach Tomaselli’s friend, Rose Ryan of Lewiston, Maine, defended him Monday against his father’s claim that he made up the story about being molested by Fine.
“He’s not lying,” said Ryan, who said Tomaselli provided detailed descriptions to police of the Pittsburgh hotel and of the interior of Fine’s home.
Ryan, who’s 31, said Tomaselli worked as a camp counselor and a baseball umpire but is currently unemployed and having difficulty finding work because of sex charges pending against him in Maine.
Tomaselli was arrested in April on 11 warrants charging gross sexual assault, tampering with a victim, two counts of unlawful sexual contact, five counts of visual sexual aggression against a child and unlawful sexual touching and unlawful sexual contact, Lewiston police said. They did not say what led to the charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
John Duncan, executive assistant U.S. attorney in Syracuse, said a search warrant was executed Friday by the U.S. Secret Service at Fine’s residence. He declined to say Monday what was sought or found, saying it remains under seal. “His home was searched,” he said.
U.S. Secret Service agent Tim Kirk in Syracuse declined to comment and referred questions to Duncan.
Lee Kindlon, a criminal defense attorney who practices in state and federal courts in upstate New York, said while the statute of limitations won’t bar federal prosecutors at this point, they have other issues including the credibility of the accuser and lack of physical proof.
“But these allegations are serious and I think the feds are doing the right thing and looking for proof to back up the accusations,” he said.
Also Monday, the Syracuse Police Department said it will provide details of its investigation to the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday, heading off a court appearance that was scheduled for Tuesday morning. DA William Fitzpatrick had complained that the police were not sharing details and accused the police chief and others of leaking information to the media, a claim the police denied.
A two-paragraph statement from the city police noted that the case had entered a “new phase” with the U.S. Attorney and Secret Service taking the lead.
AP Writers Mike Virtanen, Mary Esch and Rik Stevens in Albany, Ben Dobbin in Rochester and David Sharp in Portland, Maine contributed to this report.