Woman pictured in Te’o hoax talks about perpetrator
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Two of the people linked to an expansive hoax involving Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o attended the same Antelope Valley high school, according to the Southern California woman whose photos were used in the ruse.
Diane O’Meara, who now works in marketing at STN Media Group in Torrance, spoke to NBC’s ‘Today’ about the incident in a segment that aired Tuesday. In the segment, she said she met the supposed hoaxer, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, in high school but added that the two were not friends.
Paraclete High football coach Norm Dahlia confirmed to The Times that Tuiasosopo played quarterback for the Lancaster school in 2007.
A Deadspin.com report published last week first revealed the hoax but did not name O’Meara. The report claims that Tuiasosopo used photos of a girl he met at Paraclete High School in Lancaster as part of a Twitter account for a ‘Lennay Kekua,’ a fake woman whom he connected with Te’o.
‘My name is not Lennay Kekua,’ O’Meara told ‘Today.’ “My name’s Diane.’
Online athletic records and a story published in the Los Angeles Daily News indicate that a ‘Diane O’Meara’ participated in track and field for Paraclete High around the same time Tuiasosopo played football. It was unclear when and how O’Meara and Tuiasosopo’s paths crossed.
Titus Tuiasosopo, the father of Ronaiah, works as a health and physical education teacher at Paraclete, according to the school’s website. A Times reporter was denied entry into the private high school last week.
Te’o, a Heisman Trophy runner-up, spoke to the media repeatedly about his girlfriend and her supposed battle with cancer, a story that captivated football fans.
After more than a year of corresponding on social media and by telephone with someone he thought was Kekua, Te’o said he was told in September that the woman had died of leukemia. Three months later, the player got a call from a phone number he recognized as Kekua’s, with the voice on the other end telling him Kekua wasn’t dead.
On Dec. 26, Te’o told Notre Dame officials that he had learned his girlfriend did not exist, the university said. In an interview with ESPN, Te’o denied a role in the ruse.
‘I wasn’t faking it,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t part of this.’
O’Meara told ‘Today’ she had never heard of Te’o until news of the scandal broke.
‘I’ve never met Manti Te’o in my entire life,’ she said. ‘I’ve never spoken with him, I’ve never exchanged words, tweets [with him].’
O’Meara also told ‘Today’ that Tuiasosopo sent her a Facebook message in December, saying he had a cousin who was involved in a car accident who had seen her Facebook photos and thought she was pretty.
Tuiasosopo asked O’Meara if she would take a picture for the cousin, she said, and that photo was used in the hoax. O’Meara said other photos were taken from her Facebook account.
‘The past five years, he’s literally been stalking my Facebook and stealing my photos,’ she said of Tuiasosopo.
Tuiasosopo has not commented publicly about the allegations, but O’Meara said the two had spoken.
‘Ronny has called and not only confessed, but he has also apologized,’ she said. ‘But I don’t think there’s anything he could say to me that would fix this.’
Dahlia, the high school football coach, said he hasn’t spoken to Tuiasosopo in years, but praised his former player.
‘When Ronaiah was with me, and to this day, he treats me with respect and love. I am totally in love with him and his family.”
Meanwhile, O’Meara’s former boss, Diane Merrick, told The Times O’Meara reached out to her by email last week and asked if she knew of an attorney who could help. Someone had stolen her identity, she said, but Merrick couldn’t help.
Merrick, who owns a clothing store on Beverly Boulevard, vehemently defended the employee who she said worked for her for about two years until early 2012, calling O’Meara an ‘incredible person.’
“I would get on a stack of bibles and vouch for her,” she said.
A full interview with O’Meara will air live Wednesday, ‘Today’ producers said.
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-- Matt Stevens, Kate Mather and Kevin Baxter