Syracuse fires Fine in wake of charges
Associate head coach was in 36th season with Orange
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse fired associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine on Sunday in the wake of an investigation of child molestation allegations against him.
“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.
The 65-year-old Fine 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.
Fine’s firing comes in the wake of new revelations Sunday, including a third accuser. Syracuse had placed Fine on paid administrative leave when accusations first surfaced.
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.
Tomaselli, who faces sexual assault charges in Maine involving a 14-year-old boy, said during a telephone interview with the Associated Press that he signed an affidavit accusing Fine following a meeting with Syracuse police last week in Albany.
Tomaselli’s father, meanwhile, maintains his son is lying.
Two former Syracuse ball boys were the first to accuse Fine, who has called the allegations “patently false.”
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 told ESPN that 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.
No one answered the door at the Fine home Sunday. Earlier in the day, 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.”
Pete Moore, director of athletic communications at the university, said head coach Jim Boeheim “is not commenting further on the subject at this time.”
When a reporter called Boeheim after Fine was fired, he hung up.
During his long career with Syracuse, Fine tutored the likes of Derrick Coleman, LeRon Ellis and John Wallace in his role of working with post players. Coleman was the top pick in the 1990 NBA draft, Ellis was the Clippers’ 22nd overall choice in 1991, and Wallace was picked 18th in 1996 by the New York Knicks.
Boeheim and Fine met at Syracuse University in 1963, when Fine was student manager of the basketball team. Fine graduated in 1967 with a degree in personal and industrial relations and went into business for himself.
In 1970, Fine was named basketball and football coach at Lincoln Junior High in Syracuse and went to Henninger High School the next year as the junior varsity basketball coach. He became varsity basketball coach in 1975. When Boeheim was chosen to succeed Roy Danforth at Syracuse in 1976 Boeheim offered Fine a job as an assistant.
Fine was an integral part of the staff that guided Syracuse to the national championship in 2003. During his tenure the Orange also made two other appearances in the NCAA title game, losing in 1987 to Indiana and in 1996 to Kentucky. He also guided the U.S. Maccabiah team to a silver medal at the 1993 World Maccabiah Games in Israel and has served as director of a successful basketball camp in the Northeast.
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.
Tomaselli told the Post-Standard he met Fine after he and his father, Fred, attended a Syracuse autograph session on campus in late 2001.
The newspaper reported that Fine later called Tomaselli’s parents to arrange for Tomaselli to go to Pittsburgh with the athletic department staff on a chartered bus, spend the night in Fine’s hotel room and attend the team’s game on Jan. 22, 2002.
Tomaselli told the Post-Standard that he had dinner with the team, then returned to the hotel room where he accused Fine of putting porn on the TV and fondling him in bed.
Tomaselli attended the basketball game the next day, sitting several rows behind the bench, and rode the chartered bus back to Syracuse, the newspaper reported.
“The one time there was multiple incidents in that one night, but there was only one night that he ever sexually abused me,” Tomaselli told the AP.
However, during a phone interview with the AP, Fred Tomaselli said: “I’m 100 percent sure that Bernie Fine was never in contact with Zach. He never went to Pittsburgh to a game, never been to that arena.”
“I brought him to a couple of games in Syracuse. We always sat in the nosebleed section and left after the game. He never stayed for any overnighters and never even got within shouting distance of Bernie.”
The Post-Standard also reported that Zach Tomaselli was invited by Fine to a party at his home after the Syracuse-Pitt game on Feb. 1, 2003 -- a game where Zach Tomaselli said Fine arranged seats for him and his father several rows behind the bench.
Tomaselli told the newspaper his father, who was unable to attend the party, allowed him to go to Fine’s house and stay the night.
While there, Tomaselli told the AP, Fine asked him to get into bed and that Fine’s wife, Laurie, was there when it happened.
“I told them [police] that Laurie was standing right there when Bernie asked me to sleep in a bed. Laurie knew all about it,” he said during the phone interview.
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 … “
During the call, Davis tells her he asked her husband in the late 1990s for $5,000 to help pay off his student loans.
“When he gave you the money, what does he want for that?” she asked.
He tells her that Fine wanted to engage in sexual activity in several ways.
“… 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,' " Davis said.
“Right. Right,” she said. “He just has a nasty attitude, because he didn’t get his money, nor did he get what he wanted.”
On Friday, federal authorities carried out a search at his Fine’s suburban Syracuse home but declined to comment on what they were looking for.
New York State Police spokesman Jack Keller said troopers were called to assist the U.S. attorney’s office at the search. At least six police vehicles were parked on the street during the search, which lasted around nine hours. Officers carted away three file cabinets and a computer for further examination.
• Fine put on paid leave following charges