In an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw, Roniah Tuiasosopo, the man who pretended to be Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, acknowledged he is gay and that he fell in love with Te'o during years of phone calls. NBC's Mike Taibbi talks to Dr. Phil.
After admitting to having had romantic feelings for Manti Te’o, the mastermind behind the fake girlfriend hoax involving the Notre Dame linebacker told Dr. Phil McGraw Thursday that he is “recovering’’ from homosexuality and is “confused” and “lost’’ about his sexual orientation.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, spoke with McGraw on the “Dr. Phil’’ show in the first part of a two-part interview that will conclude on Friday. McGraw asked him if he was gay after he admitted to having romantic feelings for Te’o while impersonating the fictional Lennay Kekua, whom he duped Te’o into thinking had died of leukemia on the same day the football player's grandmother died in September.
“If you look at this situation and look at everything I’ve been through, I would say yeah, but honestly I’m so confused, I’m so lost, and I’m just finding me,’’ Tuiasosopo said. “You’ve heard of recovering drug addicts? It takes a lot of courage to stand and say that to recover from homosexuality and this type of thing. Not just that, but coming back to your real life, as hard of a task it is, I’m going to do all that I can to live right.’’
Tuiasosopo maintained that he was the one doing the voice of Kekua over the phone in a hoax that lasted more than two years. However, he refused to do the supposed voice of Kekua on camera on the "Dr. Phil'' show, saying he had never imitated it in front of any other people and that he usually communicated with Te’o while alone in a dark room. He agreed to recreate the voice on the show only while standing behind a partition without cameras, which will air during Friday’s interview segment.
McGraw said that a voice analysis done by experts who work with the FBI and Secret Service revealed that the chances of Tuiasosopo’s voice being the female-sounding one on voicemails revealed by Te’o is one in 10 million.
“As I sit here today, I am not convinced it is him,’’ McGraw told NBC’s Mike Taibbi in a segment that aired on TODAY Thursday.
Tuiasosopo may have been playing the role of Kekua, who only communicated with Te’o online and over the phone, but he began to have genuine feelings for Te’o.
“I pretty much had this escape of Lennay from everything else and this was where my heart had pretty much invested not just time, but all of my energy went into this,’’ Tuiasosopo said. “As twisted and as confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person. I did all that I could to help this person become a better person even though I wasn't getting nothing out of it. Of course, it's very shameful and very painful to talk about.’’
He claims the two men met face-to-face after Notre Dame’s game against USC on Nov. 24, when Tuiasosopo wanted to come clean about the hoax but didn't.
“It was really awkward at first,’’ Tuiasosopo said. “I wanted to tell him everything right then and there, and that's the truth, but shortly after his uncle and a lot of his uncle's friends and other family, they all came in, and it just wasn't the right time.’’
Tuiasosopo’s claim that he acted alone refutes a report by The New York Post that alleges his female cousin, Tino Tuiasasopo, was the one speaking for hours at a time on the phone with Te’o and leaving voicemails. Tuiasosopo also claimed to have impersonated the fake voices of Kekua’s other family members. He also used Facebook photos taken from the account of former high school classmate Diane O’Meara to represent Kekua in online profiles. He apologized to O’Meara and her family during Thursday’s appearance.
Tuiasosopo remained vigilant in the deception, claiming that he never broke character.
“I’m not trying to be funny, but that’s kind of a rookie mistake,’’ he said. “When you have been able to mastermind all of this and create this whole…not just Lennay, but her family and this whole reality, and make it seem as real as possible, that’s a mistake that…I never made that mistake.’’
He also insisted that Te’o was never complicit in the hoax and that Tuiasosopo did not perpetrate it to try to get money or anything else out of Te’o.
“I didn’t ask him for anything,’’ Tuiasosopo said. “I didn’t ask him for money, I didn’t ask him for not even an autograph. I never wanted everything, and that’s what really hurt. To read all these different reports about how I had done this to not just maliciously attack him or hurt him, but to read that I was trying to do it to take money for him, he knows for a fact that that’s not true.’’
After impersonating a family member to inform Te’o of Kekua’s supposed death and potentially end the hoax, Tuiasosopo came clean about it in a phone call to Te’o on Dec. 6.
“I felt like even if we ended this and we moved on with our lives and this wasn't brought back up and the truth wasn't known, that we wouldn't truly be moving on,’’ he said. “Right then and there, I knew I had to come clean and make everything right.’’
Tuiasosopo also admitted that part of the reason he “killed’’ Kekua was anger over discovering that Te’o was speaking with other girls on Skype when another girl answered Te’o’s phone.
“The me, Ronaiah, I was hurting,’’ he said. “It hurt me. It hit me like a brick wall. I had given so much to this and I realized right then in that moment that I poured so much into Lennay that I myself wasn’t getting nothing and look what I was left with. I was crying that morning, I was hurt emotionally, just all kinds of things just took over, so right then and there I made the decision, I can’t do this Lennay thing anymore, and I ended it.’’