Manti Te'o hoax: Notre Dame investigation was limited to 'electronic search'

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The private investigation, commissioned and relied upon by Notre Dame, did not include interviews of Te'o or any suspected participants in "catfish" scheme.

As the Te'o scandal enters its fifth day, Notre Dame officials are facing questions over the sufficiency of the investigation commissioned by the university after learning that Manti Te'o's girlfriend story was a hoax. As the South Bend Tribune is reporting, the investigation focused almost exclusively on using electronic databases to confirm that Te'o's fictitious girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, did not exist, and did not seriously examine Te'o's role in the hoax:

The investigation ordered by Notre Dame was limited to the electronic search, [Notre Dame spokesman Dennis] Brown said. Investigators did not interview Te'o or his family, nor did anyone attempt to contact Ronaiah Tuiasosopo or any of his relatives.

In response to questions, university officials said the investigators did not examine cell phone records, e-mails or other electronic communication to determine the length or extent of Te'o's communication over the past few years with the person claiming to be Lennay Kekua, nor did the university ask Te'o to take a lie detector test.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick repeatedly cited the investigation when defending Te'o as the victim of a cruel hoax in a Wednesday night press conference. This assertion was made despite investigators apparently not having interviewed Te'o or anyone else involved in the scheme. Nevertheless, given the details of the investigation, Notre Dame officials were confident in Te'o's innocence:

[The investigator] called the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, and Swarbrick to explain to them what a catfish scheme is and said this appeared to be one. "They agreed that it now seemed absolutely certain that Manti was a victim of a hoax," Brown said.

In effect, the university had decided that Manti was telling the truth. The investigation ended that day, Jan. 4.

The investigation did uncover that the supposed address of Kekua was the actual address of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a man reported to be a close friend of the Te'o family and alleged perpetrator of the girlfriend hoax. Investigators also provided copies of social media messages implicating Tuiasosopo in the scheme.

Swarbrick said Wednesday night that Notre Dame officials had been notified of the scheme in late December, and presented the findings of a private investigation to Te'o's family on Jan. 5. Notre Dame made no further effort to disclose the scandal to the media or public, leaving it to the Te'os to tell the press of the hoax:

Some of the small group of administrators wrestling with the Te'o problem had argued for disclosing the news immediately, the other official said. And university leaders discussed over several days whether they should disclose the hoax to the public before the bowl game, Brown said.

But at some point in the couple days just before the bowl game, it seemed apparent that exposing the hoax then would not be in the best interest of the teams or the individuals involved, Brown said.


In consultation with other top administrators, Jenkins made the final decision: disclosure must come from Te'o and Notre Dame would not announce the news before the game was played.

Te'o had made no such disclosure when Deadspin broke the story earlier this week, and has remained largely silent since the news came to light.

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