Why ESPN Didn't Air Syracuse Molestation Case Phone Call for 8 Years (Update)

Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:16am EST

(Updates with ESPN saying it received the tape in 2008, needed time to confirm the voice on it was Laurie Fine's.)

Syracuse fired assistant coach Bernie Fine Sunday over child molestation allegations after a 2002 phone recording emerged in which Fine's wife told his accuser she was well aware that her husband had molested him.

The tape had been in ESPN's possession 2003, the year after former Syracuse ball boy Bobby Davis legally recorded it, but the network said it didn't air it until Sunday because it didn't have corroboration.

Also read: Jon Stewart to Jerry Sandusky: 'Horseplay? Are You F---ing Kidding Us?'

Two other men have come forward to say Fine molested them since Davis first accused Fine. One of them came forward over the weekend. ESPN news director Vince Doria said Monday that the additional corroboration gave the network the confidence to air the phone call.

The accusations against Fine became public after Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was fired amid allegations he sexually abused young boys.

"Convince yourself. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong, and you were a child, and he took advantage of that," Laurie Fine told Davis during the recorded call. At another point she recalled her husband trying to be alone with Davis: "And then he’d come down to where you were every night. And he’d say to me, 'Go check (the Fines' son).' Or ... Go lay with him. Go upstairs.’ Anything to get me out of the room. And I knew."

Davis, 39, alleges Fine molested him for roughly 15 years, beginning when he was about 11. Davis said he began a sexual relationship with Laurie Fine when he was in high school, which might explain their intimate tone during the conversation.

"You trusted somebody you shouldn't have trusted," she said on the tape.

ESPN said it hired a voice-recognition expert who confirmed the voice on the recording matches Laurie Fine's. Doria said the network initially could not confirm the voice on the tape was hers, but that it recently discovered it had video of her that allowed for an audio comparison.

Davis made the recording after a brief talk with police in 2002 and turned it over to ESPN. His allegations, which he brought to ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard at the time, created a journalistic conundrum for both: They didn't know whether to report accusations that could be incredibly damaging to Fine, or to risk not exposing a child molester. Both news outlets opted not to report on the allegations, they said, because they couldn't find anyone to support Davis' account.

Neither Davis nor ESPN passed on the tape to Syracuse University officials for an internal investigation of Fine in 2005. Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor noted in a statement Sunday that university officials did not have the tape at the time.

"That is true. They did not have that tape in 2005," ESPN's Mark Schwarz reported Sunday night. "Bobby Davis did not know what to do with that tape. All he knew is that the Syracuse police had a cursory five-minute phone conversation with him in 2002. He then made the tape. He presented it to us. We didn't have a corroborating second alleged victim and so we kept the tape for eight years not really knowing what to do with it until the second alleged victim, Mike Lang, came forward."

Schwarz reported, however, that Syracuse interviewed Laurie Fine for the 2005 internal investigation and that she said Davis was a "liar" and denied the allegations.

All three of the accusers have something in their backgrounds that may cause investigators -- or defense attorneys, if Fine is eventually charged -- to question their motives for coming forward. Davis owed Fine money, though his wife said in the phone call that he had no interest in trying to collect it. Lang, 45, is Davis' stepbrother, giving him more reason to support Davis' story.

The third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, 23, who came forward Sunday, faces sexual assault charges in Maine involving a 14-year-old boy. Tomaselli's father said his son's claim that he was molested isn't true.

Fine, 65, was in his 36th season at Syracuse, his alma mater. (The unfortunate picture of him that accompanies this story, now making the Internet rounds, is from Getty Images and has not been altered for darkly comedic effect.)

Doria said that while Laurie Fine's comments on the tape were "damning ... in terms of her characterization of her husband," he added that they were "based on her thinking and beliefs." He said she "never directly acknowledged to have witnessed any of these actions first-hand."

But she at least came close: At one point on the recording, Davis, who once lived with the Fines, alludes to her allegedly seeing through a basement window as Bernie Fines molested him.

"That one time you told me you saw him, like when I was really young, you saw him through the basement window when you were taking the garbage out?" Davis asked.

"Right. I don't know," she responded. "Is this bothersome to you?"

"Yeah it is. Lately it has been," he said. "It hit me hard. I really don’t know why."

Also on the tape, Davis said the assistant coach tried again to initiate sexual contact when he was about 27 and asked to borrow the money -- $5,000 -- to help pay off student loans.

"When he gave you the money, what does he want for that? He wants you to grab him or he wanted to do you?" Laurie Fine asks Davis.

"He wanted to do me," Davis responds. "He wanted me to touch him, too. He tried to make me touch him a couple of times. He'd grab my hand and then I'd pull away and then he'd put me in your bed, and then, you know, put me down and I'd try to go away, and he'd put his arm on top of my chest. He goes, 'If you want this money, you'll stay right here, you know."

"Right, right," she responds. "He just has a nasty attitude, because he didn't get his money, nor did he get what he wanted. He didn't get --"

"It's not about the money," Davis interrupts.

"It's about the dick," she says. "I know that. So you're -- I'm just telling you for your own good. You're better off just staying away from him."  

Related Articles:  Joe Paterno's Sex Abuse Mess: What Took the Media So Long? Jon Stewart to Jerry Sandusky: 'Horseplay? Are You F---ing Kidding Us?'