New information continues to surface about a man purported to be at the center of the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax. Sources are telling ESPN this isn’t the first time a man by the name of Roniah Tuiasosopo has duped someone with an online dating scam.
“We were very suspicious when it was 2008 but we actually all got it down when we figured out it was Roniah in December,” said Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, who told ESPN her cousin was duped by Tuiasosopo four years ago. “I even tried to actually reach out to Manti via Twitter but he blocked me.”
Another family member of that same California man told ESPN he fell for a woman he met online, by the name of Lennay Kekua. She even had the same pictures of the “Lennay Kekua” that Manti Te’o thought he knew.
One of Manti Te’o’s family members is also speaking out. His uncle, Alema Te’o, told a Utah radio station Tuiasosopo is also behind this hoax, as reported in a Deadspin.com article.
The uncle’s interview is the first time we’ve heard anyone from the Te’o family speak publicly since news of the fake girlfriend surfaced Wednesday.
The name rang a bell for Alema Te’o right away.
“When the investigation came through and his name was mentioned, and I go right back to my meeting at USC and I say 'Holy crap, this was the guy,'” Alema Te’o told the Utah radio station.
Manti’s uncle said he met Tuiasosopo for the first time in California – at the team hotel when Notre Dame played USC last fall. Alema claimed Tuiasosopo was there as a “friend” of Manti’s – and said he was trying to raise money for leukemia victims in memory of Manti's alleged dead girlfriend, Lennay Kokua.
“And all along while this guy's saying this, I'm thinking ‘This guy just wants to get close to Manti so he can get an endorsement, or plant some seeds for some things in the future, or get Manti to come to the events to boost up any revenue he might get,’” Alema added.
He also told the radio hosts he had a bad feeling from the get go and even called his brother, Brian Te’o, to warn him. Brian called Manti, the uncle said.
“Manti got back to him right away and basically told him, 'Yes dad, I realized some things. We're not getting involved with him, we're not getting involved with any of the activities he's been proposing,’” Alema recounted.
Alema thinks Manti met Tuiasosopo on Twitter or Facebook and said he has no doubt Tuiasosopo is at the center of the Lennay Kokua hoax.
“I smelled him as a bad rat from the get go and I'm not afraid to say that. Roniah Tuiasosopo is a liar, he concocted the whole thing,” Alema said.
He also added “there is no way” Manti would knowingly take part in a hoax like this on purpose or to enhance his career.
Alema told the radio hosts he spoke with his brother Wednesday night after the story broke and Manti and the family are embarrassed but are standing behind the star football player and trying to support him.
During the 30 minute interview, the hosts also addressed one of the big loopholes in this story – whether Manti ever met the woman he thought was Lennay Kekua. Alema said he wouldn’t put it past Tuiasosopo to hire someone and portray her as Kekua. There’s no evidence whether that ever happened and everyone is still waiting to hear Manti’s side of the story. But the university is still claiming the two never met.