– By JOHN KEKIS
The Associated Press
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Federal authorities have dropped their investigation into one of the sexual-abuse claims that cost a Syracuse University assistant basketball coach his job.
After a probe spanning nearly a year, U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian said Friday that there is not enough evidence to support a claim that Bernie Fine molested a boy in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002.
It’s unclear whether Fine, 66, could get his job back.
His attorneys, 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,” they said.
Two former Syracuse ballboys, Bobby Davis and Michael Lang, came forward on Nov. 17, 2011, and accused Fine of fondling them when they were teenagers.
But the alleged incidents had happened too long ago to be prosecuted. Ten days later, Zachary Tomaselli, 23, 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.
Fine, who denied the allegations, was fired on Nov. 27, and the federal government began investigating Tomaselli’s claim, the only one within the statute of limitations.
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 people should come forward with tips if they have any more information.
From the start, there were doubts about the allegations.
When Davis and Lang came forward, head coach Jim Boeheim angrily defended his assistant of 35 years and said the accusers were only out for money.
Another accuser, Floyd Van Hooser, said Fine abused him for years but later said he was lying.
That left Tomaselli, who was accused of sexually abusing a boy at a camp in 2010 and whose father had said he was lying.
Tomaselli, who eventually was convicted of sexual abuse and started a prison sentence of three years and three months in April, insisted Friday that he was telling the truth about Fine.
Before he went to jail, Tomaselli took the media on a wild spin, lying repeatedly in a bid, he said, to keep his name in print.
He said Fine had made harassing phone calls to him, and he got an order of protection. Then he said that was a lie. He said he had lied about the whole thing, that Fine had never touched him. He reverted to his old claim and insisted Fine abused him.
Tomaselli said Friday by phone from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham that he had a “mental breakdown” when he recanted.
He said sports figures have too much power and that may contribute to no one believing him.