SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Bernie Fine was fired Sunday by Syracuse University after a third man accused the assistant basketball coach of molesting him nine years ago.
“At the direction of Chancellor Cantor, Bernie Fine’s employment with Syracuse University has been terminated, effective immediately,” Kevin Quinn, the school’s senior vice president for public affairs, said in a statement.
Fine, 65, was in his 36th season at his alma mater. He had the longest active streak of consecutive seasons at one school among assistant coaches in Division I.
Zach Tomaselli, 23, of Lewiston, Maine, said Sunday that he told police that Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room. He said Fine touched him “multiple” times in that one incident.
He was the third accuser to come forward in the investigation of child molestation allegations against Fine.
Also Sunday, ESPN aired an audiotape of a 2002 phone call made by one of the accusers, purportedly speaking to Fine’s wife, Laurie. On the recording, the woman says she believes the alleged molestation had occurred.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he supported the university’s decision to fire his longtime assistant and expressed regret for his initial statements that might have been “insensitive to victims of abuse.
“The allegations that have come forth today are disturbing and deeply troubling,” Boeheim said in a statement released by the school. “I am personally very shocked because I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged. I believe the university took the appropriate step tonight. 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. I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.”
Two former Syracuse ball boys were the first to accuse Fine, who has called the allegations “patently false.”
Tomaselli, who faces sexual assault charges in Maine involving a 14-year-old boy, said during a telephone interview that he signed an affidavit accusing Fine following a meeting with Syracuse police last week in Albany.
Tomaselli’s father, meanwhile, said his son is lying.
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 said the abuse occurred at Fine’s home, at Syracuse basketball facilities and on team road trips, including the 1987 Final Four.
Davis’ 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.
When the accusations first became public Nov. 17, Boeheim adamantly defended his lifelong friend.
In an interview that day with the Post-Standard, Boeheim attacked Davis’ reasons for going public with his accusations.
“The Penn State thing came out, and the kid behind this is trying to get money,” Boeheim said. “He’s tried before. And now he’s trying again. If he gets this, he’s going to sue the university and Bernie. What do you think is going to happen at Penn State? You know how much money is going to be involved in civil suits? I’d say about $50 million. That’s what this is about. Money.”
No one answered the door at the Fine home Sunday. Before Fine’s firing, his attorneys released a statement saying Fine would not comment beyond his initial statement.
“Any comment from him would only invite and perpetuate ancient and suspect claims,” attorneys Donald Martin and Karl Sleight said. “Mr. Fine remains hopeful of a credible and expeditious review of the relevant issues by law enforcement authorities.”
Tomaselli said the scandal at Penn State involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky prompted him to come forward. Sandusky is accused in a grand jury indictment of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period.
“It was the Sandusky stuff that came out that really made me think about it,” Tomaselli said in the phone interview. “A lot of people were slamming ESPN and Bobby for saying anything. I wanted to come out. … It made me sick to see all that support for Fine at that point. I was positive he was guilty.”
Tomaselli told the Post-Standard that he didn’t ask Syracuse police or federal authorities for help in getting the criminal charges dismissed 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 Sunday. They did not say what led to the charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
On Sunday, ESPN played an audiotape, obtained and recorded by Davis, of an October 2002 telephone conversation between him and Laurie Fine.
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.
Davis also acknowledged in an interview with ESPN that he and Laurie Fine had a sexual relationship when he was 18, and that he eventually told Bernie Fine about it.
“I thought he was going to kill me, but I had to tell him,” Davis said. “It didn’t faze him one bit.”
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.”