With the scandal surrounding Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o continuing to reveal itself to the media, sources in the know about Manti’s fake dead girlfriend, named “Lennay Kekua,” have identified the man who allegedly orchestrated the infamous hoax.
Manti’s family blames the whole thing on an acquaintance of Manti named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Here’s what you should know about the alleged mastermind behind one of the biggest scandals in football history.
1. Te’o’s Uncle Alema Te’o Told the Radio Station The Zone that Ronaiah was to Blame
On Thursday, Salt Lake City’s radio station 97.5 — The Zone interviewed Alema Te’o on his thoughts about the hoax. It became clear more than 30 minutes into the interview that Alema and the whole family believed that Ronaiah Tuaisosopo was the culprit. Alema said that the plan was so clever that Tuiasosopo may have had a girl pretend to be Lennay Kekua to meet with Manti online. “I wouldn’t put it past this guy to do that,” Alemo said. After meeting Ronaiah during the 2012 football season, Alema had his suspicions when Ronaiah’s involvement with Troy Polamalu’s football camp was all for money. “His big deal was raising money. So I can’t help but think that this guy wanted to get close to Manti to help him get money,” Alema Te’o said.
2. Some Reports Suggest Ronaiah May Not Be Entirely Blamed
Some of the first articles to come out about the hoax, including Deadspin’s thorough investigation, suggested that Te’o might have participated in this hoax, knowing about it all along. It’s even possible that several others may have been in on the elaborate scheme.
3. Two Twitter Users Caught on to Ronaiah’s Alleged Scheme
Twitter users @jayRahz and @ceeweezy51 claimed to have known about the hoax before the media got ahold of it and blamed it on Tuiasosopo. @jayRahz tweeted, “We caught Ronaiah’s persona as Lennay Kekua back in 2008 and ended all ties with him. The two even joked about being the mastermind of the hoax. @ceeweezy51 tweeted: EVERY TWEET @jayRahz and I had about Lennay Kekua were all jokes. We knew from the beginning she was fake!”
4. Ronaiah is a Family Friend of Te’o and Has a Football Family Background
Deadspin reported that Ronaiah is a family acquaintance of Te’o with ties to a football family legacy. Ronaiah’s cousin, Manu Tuiasosopo, was drafted by the Seahawks back in 1979. After eight years in the NFL, he became a high school football coach at Redmond High School. Manu’s son, Marques Tuiasosopo, played college ball and spent seven years at the NFL playing for the Oakland Riders. Marques returned to Seattle in 2009 as a Washington strength coach and is now the Huskies’ quarterback coach.
5. Ronaiah Used a Real Girl to Create the Persona of Lenny Kekua
The photos of real-life marketing executive Diane O’Meara were used for the pretty face of the imaginary Kekua. According to the New York Post, the woman Manti thought was his girlfriend turned out to be a a former classmate of Ronaiah’s from Los Angeles. Diane said that she was “shocked” to find out that her pictures were taken off of her Facebook page and used in a fake Twitter profile. The 23-year-old says she only found out about the scam from a reporter at Deadspin last week, finding out she was duped in an elaborate plan without her knowledge. Her family talked to the New York Post about Diane, saying she was a “good person” and that someone “stole her identity.” Ronaiah contacted Diane some time ago with a fake story that was too good to be true. He said his cousin was in a car crash and he wanted to her to show some support by sending her pictures of people he knew holding up a sign that said “MSMK.” Diane agreed to do it, only to find out later that the picture was on Kekua’s Twitter profile.
6. Ronaiah Plays Football and Goes to Church
Deadspin described Ronaiah as “a star high school quarterback turned religious musician.” The site said that the 22-year-old came from a family with a football background. His father Titus used to be an assistant high school football coach and is now a pastor at the Oasis Christian Church in Antelope Valley, Calif., where Ronaiah is a front man for a gospel band.
7. Ronaiah Auditioned for The Voice
Before news got out about the hoax, Ronaiah auditioned for The Voice‘s upcoming season. Even though he didn’t make it in the auditions, producers thought his sob story would make great TV. According to Us Weekly, the alleged suspect told the producers that he and his cousins were in a Christian band and were supposed to perform at a youth conference in Nevada when they got into a car accident. Ronaiah said that the truck crashed into their vehicle in a hit-and-run, tumbling them over the freeway. A source at the magazine said that Tuiasosopo “passed a background check and psych evaluation,” which is required for all reality TV contestants. With the hoax story out in the open, people will suspect that this story is fake.
8. Ronaiah’s Church Demanded an Apology from Him
People on the Oasis Church’s Facebook page have been already demanding apologies from Ronaiah. Facebook user Emme Fierra wrote, “Please good sir, Have your son make a public confession — complete and honest — the truth; all and nothing but the truth…Those men and women who VOTE in the Heisman contest will want to know if they may have been ‘played’ and they will be able to find out. A full Christian confession is the Christ like way to move forward.”
9. Ronaiah Allegedly Admitted His Guilt to a Friend
Back in early December, Ronaiah called a church friend and was crying over his involvement with duping the Heisman finalist, according to ESPN. The site reported that the friend, a woman in her mid-20s, agreed to be interviewed anonymously about the hoax and what Ronaiah told her. She said that Tuisosopo gave a tearful confession of his prank on Te’o and said that this wasn’t his first time hoaxing somebody.
“He (Ronaiah) told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim….The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie,” she said. “He was crying, he was literally crying, he’s like ‘I know, I know what I have to do.'”
The woman told Ronaiah to confess his actions and take responsibility.
Ronaiah told the same ESPN source in church that he has done this hoax on other people as well: “It’s not only Manti, but he was telling me that it’s a lot of other people they had done this to.” ESPN interviewed J.R. Vaosa and Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, whose cousin was caught on the same elaborate scheme as Te’o. In 2008, their cousin had an online romance with a woman who claimed to be a model. Vaosa said that the cousin showed him a picture on MySpace of a woman from a Victoria’s Secret catalog whose name was also Kekua. Vaosa said that Kekua agreed to meet his cousin in specific places and came with him to meet her. In most of the meeting places, they would see Ronaiah whenever they were waiting for Kekua. After so many failed attempts, Vaosa told his cousin to stop contacting Kekua, saying she was fake and that Tuisosopo was behind it. When Vaosa saw the news about Manti’s hoax, he knew it had to be Tuisosopo.