Federal authorities have dropped their investigation into one of the sexual abuse claims that cost a Syracuse University assistant basketball coach his job, threw a top-ranked team into turmoil and threatened the career of Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.
After a probe spanning nearly a year, U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian said Friday there was not enough evidence to support a claim that Bernie Fine had molested a boy in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002.
“The nature and seriousness of these allegations, which involved conduct typically committed in private with individuals who are reluctant to come forward, warranted a thorough federal investigation,” Hartunian said.
It’s unclear whether Fine, 66, could get his job back.
His lawyers, Karl Sleight, Donald Martin and David Botsford, said in a statement that they were not surprised by the decision.
“The damage inflicted upon Bernie and his family is simply immeasurable,” the lawyers said. “Bernie hopes and prays that the lesson learned and remembered is that a rush to judgment has irreversible consequences.”
The investigation erupted in the glare of a spotlight on child abuse shone by the Penn State University scandal, which broke shortly beforehand. Two former Syracuse ballboys, Bobby Davis and Michael Lang, came forward Nov. 17 and accused the longtime assistant of fondling them when they were teens. Davis said the sexual contact continued for years.
But the claims by Davis and Lang had happened too long ago to be prosecuted. Ten days later, though, a third man, 23-year-old Zachary Tomaselli, of Lewiston, Maine, went public with an accusation that Fine had molested him in 2002 in a hotel room when the team played in Pittsburgh. The same day, ESPN aired an audiotape in which Fine’s wife, Laurie Fine, apparently acknowledged to Davis she knew about the molestation he alleged.
Bernie Fine, who denied the allegations, was fired Nov. 27, and the federal government began investigating Tomaselli’s claim, the only one that fell within the statute of limitations. The federal statute of limitations that went into effect in 2002 allows prosecution until the victim reaches age 25; Tomaselli was 23 when he made his claims.
Hartunian, in his statement, said closing the investigation doesn’t mean something did or did not happen, only that there wasn’t enough admissible evidence to get a conviction. He said that people should come forward with tips if they have any more information.
Davis had made the same accusation against Fine to the university and Syracuse police a decade before, but the police couldn’t investigate because of the statute of limitations, and the school said its probe turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. Davis did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.