Manti Te’o hoax: Family of accused man asks for privacy

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The bizarre story of the hoax involving Notre Dame’s star linebacker Manti Te’o and his supposedly dead girlfriend led reporters to an Antelope Valley neighborhood where the scheme allegedly was hatched.

A report released Wednesday linked a Palmdale man to the hoax that fooled media outlets across the nation. The man allegedly was involved in creating a fake Twitter account for a woman who never existed and linking her with the Heisman Trophy runner-up, who spoke repeatedly about her and her illness to the press.


On Wednesday evening, the man’s family was asking for privacy. A sign on the front door of the house greeted visitors with ‘Mahalo’ -- the Hawaiian word for ‘thank you’ -- for removing their shoes.

A woman who answered the door smiled politely and said ‘No thank you, no comment,’ to a Times reporter who identified himself.

‘I would appreciate if you gave us some privacy please,’ she added.

Neighbors said that the people living in the house were ‘a very nice family’ and ‘very friendly.’ None were aware of the hoax involving Te’o.

On Dec. 26, Te’o told Notre Dame officials that his girlfriend did not exist and that he was a victim of an elaborate Internet hoax, the school said Wednesday.

‘In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark,’ Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said, ‘because he is a guy who is so willing to believe in others and so ready to help, that as this hoax played out in a way that called upon those tendencies of Manti, it roped him more and more into the trap.’

Swarbrick outlined a bizarre story in which Te’o learned his ‘girlfriend’ never existed more than three months after her reported death. The player received a phone call Dec. 6, while at an awards show, from what he believed was the old cellphone number of the supposed girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. The woman on the other end — in a voice he recognized as Kekua’s — told him that she wasn’t dead. She later tried to rekindle the relationship, Swarbrick said.

‘Every single thing about this, until that day in the first week of December, was real to Manti,’ Swarbrick said. ‘There was no suspicion it wasn’t. No belief it might not be. The pain was real. The grief was real. The affection was real. That’s the nature of this sad, cruel game.’

Swarbrick likened the hoax to the movie ‘Catfish,’ in which a person creates a fake persona with someone else’s picture and then dupes another person into a romantic relationship. The film spurred a popular MTV show by the same name that investigates online relationships to see if the participants are real.

Te’o notified his coaches of the situation after discussing it with his parents over the Christmas holiday. Swarbrick said he met with the player twice and found his story about the exclusively online and telephonic relationship to be consistent. Te’o and Kekua never met face to face, Swarbrick said.


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-- Matt Stevens in Palmdale