The former Syracuse assistant men’s basketball coach Bernie Fine cannot be prosecuted for allegations that he sexually abused two boys in the 1980s because the statute of limitations had run out, William Fitzpatrick, the district attorney for Onondaga County, N.Y., said Wednesday. But Fitzpatrick added that he believed the men who accused Fine were telling the truth about the abuse.
Fitzpatrick said he judged the men, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, to be credible in their accounts of abuse, and regretted that their accusations were not brought to his office in 2002 when Davis called the Syracuse police and alerted several news media outlets to his claims.
“It’s not my place to say that Bernie Fine is guilty of anything,” Fitzpatrick said. “It is my place to say that the two victims are believable.”
Federal authorities are continuing to investigate allegations brought by a third accuser, Zach Tomaselli. Secret Service agents have assisted in searches of Fine’s home and office over the past two weeks. Tomaselli, who is from Lewiston, Me., alleged that Fine abused him after a game in Pittsburgh in 2002.
But Fitzpatrick said his office had turned over exculpatory evidence to federal and Pittsburgh authorities that would support Fine’s defense in that case, including Tomaselli’s school records and university travel records. Fitzpatrick would not comment on the details of those records, referring questions to the United States Attorney’s office, which later said that it had no comment.
Tomaselli, 23, also said he would plead guilty to sexual abuse charges against him and admitted he had abused a 13-year-old boy at a summer camp.
The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that federal investigators were looking for pornography and any records that would link Fine to his accusers or other boys. They seized cellphones, computers and cameras as well as tapes and DVDs from Fine’s home and office.
Fitzgerald said that he was disappointed he could not pursue the allegations brought by Davis and Lang and that many mistakes were made when Davis first called the police with his allegations in 2002 and when he alerted the university in 2005. He said the university should not have relied on a law firm to investigate the charges and that Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s mistake was in trusting that law firm’s report.
“Child abuse investigations should be conducted by professional child abuse prosecutors,” he said.
He also called a tape recording that Davis made of a phone conversation with Fine’s wife, Laurie, to be among the most compelling evidence and said he wished it had been brought to the authorities in 2002 instead of just to The Post-Standard and ESPN. Cantor has said the tape is what persuaded her to fire Fine.
“How you can listen to that tape and say it’s inconclusive or not corroborative, frankly that’s just beyond me,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said if there were other victims of abuse by Fine he hoped that they would come forward.
“I can’t bring Bernie Fine to justice for what he did to Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, but if any other victims come forward, those charges will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.