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Manti Te'o

Will Still Be 1st Round Pick

... Says Ex-NFL Star

1/18/2013 7:40 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF
EXCLUSIVE

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Manti Te'o will still be a Top 15 pick in April's NFL Draft ... despite all of the questions surrounding the hoax ... this according to former 1st round NFL draft pick Mike Williams.

Williams -- who was the #10 overall pick in the 2005 Draft -- was out in L.A. last night, when we asked if he thought Te'o's draft stock is plummeting because of the scandal.

Mike knows a little something about the politics of the draft, he was involved in a controversy of his own when he left USC early and tried to enter the 2004 draft, only to be denied by the league because he wasn't 3 years removed from high school.

But when it comes to Te'o ... Mike says the not-really-dead-girlfriend scandal is irrelevant to NFL teams, because if the kid can play ... his talent trumps everything else.  

So, we gotta ask ...

Manti Te'o Hoax

Woman in Cemetery Pic

Denies Connection

1/18/2013 6:20 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF
EXCLUSIVE

0118_donna_tei_videoDonna Tei -- whose picture was used as part of the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax -- says she and her family have never met the Notre Dame star and have no idea how she got roped into the scam. 

As TMZ first reported, a Notre Dame superfan (who we're calling "Jan") says she struck up an online friendship with a person claiming to be U'ilani Rae Kekua -- the older sister of Te'o's dead "girlfriend," Lennay Kekua.

U'ilani later sent a photo to Jan showing a woman at a cemetery -- and told her, "This is me and my family at Lennay's gravesite. We're spending the day here."

But the woman in the photo couldn't have been U'ilani -- 'cause U'ilani doesn't really exist.

TMZ tracked down the actual woman in the photo -- Donna Tei -- who lives in Carson, CA. When we asked Donna and her father if they had a connection to Te'o, he told us, "We don't even know the guy."

Tei's father went on to explain the photo is of his daughter, Donna, and his wife. He claims the pic was stolen off of Facebook.

So how -- and why -- did "Lennay" decide to steal Donna's cemetery pics? We would ask Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, but he seems to have gone into hiding.

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Manti Te'o

Yeah I Lied

... But I Had To

1/18/2013 1:00 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF
EXCLUSIVE

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Manti Te'o is telling friends ... he knew the truth about Lennay Kekua in early December ... but continued the lie for 20 days for the sake of his team.

Sources connected to Te'o say ... it's true what ND Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said Wednesday night, that Manti realized he had been hoaxed on Dec. 6, when he got a phone call from "Lennay" ... months after he thought she was dead.

But sources tell us ... Manti didn't tell his coaches about the hoax until Dec. 26 ... because he thought it would be a huge distraction while the team prepared to face Alabama in the BCS Championship.

During the 20 days, we're told Manti struggled over how to handle the situation ... but eventually felt compelled to come clean to his coaches.

Manti is currently training for the NFL combine -- and we're told he's getting a lot of support from the guys he's been training with.

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Manti Te'o

Notre Dame's Story

Sinks Manti

1/17/2013 3:27 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
breaking news

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Manti Te'o continued to tell people his girlfriend died of cancer even after he learned it was all a big hoax ... and this is according to Notre Dame's public version of the facts.

During a news conference Wednesday night, ND Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said ... Manti told ND officials that he first learned the whole thing was a hoax when he received a call from his GF's phone number during an ESPN award show in December ... months after she was presumed dead.

The ESPN college football awards ceremony took place in Orlando on Dec. 6 -- but just two days later, on Dec. 8, Te'o gave a statement to reporters in anticipation of the Heisman Trophy ceremony, in which he continued to perpetuate the belief that his girlfriend had died from cancer.

Te'o told reporters ... “I don’t like cancer at all. I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer,” this according to WSBT-TV. 

We now know Manti's statement wasn't true -- and by Notre Dame's own account, Manti lied.

It begs the question -- what else did he lie about?

Manti Te'o

Witness Talks

New Timeline Emerges

1/17/2013 3:05 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
EXCLUSIVE

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Manti Te'o and his non-existent girlfriend Lennay Kekua went public with their relationship in January 2012 ... and continued to date until she died in September ... TMZ has learned.

TMZ spoke with "Jan" ... a Notre Dame superfan who struck up an online friendship with "Lennay" through Twitter back in 2011.

According to Jan, Lennay had always maintained that she was friendly with Manti ... but didn't reveal that she was his "girlfriend" until January.

The timeline begs one really big question ... in 9 months, two college students at top universities (Lennay maintained she went to Stanford) didn't have one video chat session??

"Jan" called in to "TMZ Live" and explained her relationship with Lennay ... and also told us why she believes Ronaiah Tuiasosopo participated in the hoax on the Notre Dame star.

Manti Te'o Hoax

Great News ...

For Lance Armstrong

1/17/2013 2:20 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
TMZ TV

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Manti Te'o didn't just inspire a new whole Internet craze (Te'oing) ... he also made life WAAAAYYY easier for one Lance "Yep, I cheated" Armstrong.

Check out TMZ on TV -- click here to see your local listings!

Manti Te'o

'No Way Involved in Hoax'

Says Cancer Victim's Family

1/17/2013 11:00 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF
EXCLUSIVE

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Manti Te'o's emotions were too real ... too authentic ... to have been lying about the fate of Lennay Kekua -- this according to the family of a 12-year-old cancer victim who met with the Notre Dame star after the death of his supposed girlfriend.

TMZ spoke with Brian and Louise Smith -- who received a letter from Manti back in October when he learned their 12-year-old daughter, Bridget, was suffering from cancer.

In his letter to the family, Manti said he knew what they were going through, since his girlfriend had just passed away from cancer.

After Bridget passed away, Manti met with her parents and they shared an emotional moment together.

Louise tells TMZ ... Manti was full of humility and kindness when they met ... and only cared about how they were doing in light of the family tragedy.

Louise says he seemed like such an honest, real person  ... "It's very hard for me to believe he made this up. I don't believe it for a second."

"There's no way this guy knew anything about this hoax."

Louise also says ... after the family received the initial letter from Manti, she reached out to Te'o and asked if she could share the details of the letter with the media.

Louise says Manti replied, "That's up to you ... it was for you and your family. You do with it what you wish."

Her point -- Manti was not about the publicity, but felt a real connection over what he thought was a real loss.

Are you buyin' what he's sellin'?

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Manti Te'o Hoax

All SCAMS Lead to

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo

1/17/2013 10:35 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF
EXCLUSIVE

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The Manti Te'o not-really-dead-girlfriend hoax was perpetuated by a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo -- who served as a representative for the family of the fake "Lennay Kekua" ... and TMZ has the photo proof.

Here's what we know ...

While Manti was "dating" Lennay ... a Notre Dame die-hard fan who we'll call "Jan" (to protect her identity) reached out to Lennay on Twitter and began an online friendship.

After Lennay's supposed death, Jan became involved with a group called "Wear a Lei 4 Manti" -- in which fans wore Hawaiian leis to ND football games to show their support for the football star.

When the "Wear a Lei 4 Manti" movement began to receive media attention, Jan says she noticed she gained a Twitter follower named U'ilani Rae Kekua.

Jan tells TMZ ... she reached out to U'ilani and asked if she was related to Lennay -- to which U'ilani replied, "Yes, that's my baby sister." The two became friends.

In fact, Jan says they both mentioned how they were going to attend the Notre Dame vs. USC game in L.A. on November 24, 2012  ... so Jan sent U'ilani her cell phone number in case she wanted to meet up.

Here's where the story takes a turn ... Jan tells TMZ she got a phone call from U'ilani on the day of the game directing her to the famous Tommy Trojan statue in front of the stadium, so they could meet up.

But when Jan arrived to the statue, U'ilani was NOT there ... but guess who was -- Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.  Jan and Ronaiah even took a photo together (see above).

According to the Deadspin article, Ronaiah was the person who obtained the photo of the woman everyone believed to be Lennay ... and is suspected of having a major role in the hoax.

Jan tells us Ronaiah was with a little girl during the USC meeting who they called Pookah -- and together, they explained how Lennay's sister couldn't come down to visit, so U'ilani sent them instead. Jan says Ronaiah "made it seem as if he was a member of Lennay's family."

After Jan and Ronaiah took the picture together -- Jan says Ronaiah began to act paranoid ... and told her, "Make sure you don't post this photo online."

Soon after the game, Jan says she was contacted by U'ilani ... who also urged her NOT to post the picture of Ronaiah. She didn't explain why.

U'ilani later sent a photo to Jan showing a woman at a cemetery -- and told her, "This is me and my family at Lennay's gravesite. We're spending the day here."

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Clearly, the woman in the photo is not U'ilani ('cause she doesn't really exist) ... and some digging suggests the woman in the photo is actually a woman named Donna Tei, who doesn't seem to have a relationship with anyone involved in the hoax.

There's more ... Jan tells TMZ Lennay's "sister" continued to reach out to her after the USC game ... and delivered some more bad news -- that little Pookah had been diagnosed with lupus and was dying in a children's hospital in Orange County, CA.

Jan said she wanted to send flowers -- so Lennay's "sister" gave her an address. TMZ has learned the address belongs to a member of the Tuiasosopo family.

Jan also gave us the phone number Lennay's sister would use to contact her -- and we found out the number is registered to a man named Titus Tuiasosopo -- Ronaiah's father.

We tried to reach out to Ronaiah -- but we couldn't get a hold of him. So far, he has yet to comment to the media about the story.

Manti Te'o Scandal

Notre Dame Tells Staff

KEEP YOUR MOUTHS SHUT

1/17/2013 7:50 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF
EXCLUSIVE

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Notre Dame is circling the wagons on the Manti Te'o not-really-dead-girlfriend hoax ... TMZ has learned the school has instructed staff to keep their mouths shut ... or else.

One person connected to the program tells us ... officials have warned staff, if they speak to the media about the scandal without permission from the University, they will "never work for Notre Dame again."

The ND athletic director already held a news conference last night, saying the University believes Manti is an innocent victim who was hoaxed by some cyber-bullies for no apparent reason.

The initial article published by Deadspin.com suggests Manti may have been involved in concocting the hoax in an effort to gain publicity on a national level.

Manti is expected to address the media later today.

Stay tuned ...

Manti Te'o

Mocked Online

'Te'oing!'

1/17/2013 7:23 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF

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Well, that didn't take long ...

Following in the tradition of Tebowing, owling and planking ... the Internet has given birth to a new trend -- Te'oing ... inspired by the Manti Te'o not-really-dead-girlfriend scandal.

Here's what you do ... put your arm around your invisible girlfriend ... and take a photo.

It's hilarious ... and it's already blowing up.

FYI -- Notre Dame says Manti Te'o will address the media over the scandal later today ... so, stay tuned.

Manti Te'o

Fake GF Called Me AFTER

Her Supposed Death

1/16/2013 5:06 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
breaking news

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Manti Te'o told Notre Dame officials he NEVER met his supposed girlfriend in person ... and only realized her death was a hoax last month ... after receiving a phone call from "Lennay's" cell phone.

Jack Swarbrick -- Director of Athletics at Notre Dame -- called an emergency media conference Wednesday night in the wake of the not-really-dead girlfriend scandal. Here are the highlights:

-- Manti is expected to address the media sometime tomorrow (Thursday).
-- Manti called Notre Dame officials on Dec. 26 ... and alerted them to the hoax.
-- According to Swarbrick, Manti realized Lennay Kekua wasn't dead when he got a phone call from her cell phone at an ESPN award show in December ... months after her supposed death.
-- Manti claims the woman who called from "Lennay's" phone was the same person who he had spoken with during his relationship with Lennay.
-- Manti says the woman informed him that Lennay was not dead ... because she was not real.
-- Swarbrick says Manti met with a media team, who had planned to release the story to the media next week ... but they were scooped by Deadspin.
-- Manti told ND officials he had gone to Hawaii to meet Lennay in person on several occasions, but she never showed up.
-- ND believes that Manti was targeted because he's too nice of a guy ... and the perps took pleasure in humiliating him.

Swarbrick also said, "This was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can't fully understand but had a certain cruelty at its core."

Swarbrick says investigators believe there are numerous people involved in the hoax.

Manti Te'o

I Was Duped

and I'm Humiliated

1/16/2013 3:24 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
breaking news

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Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o claims he's a victim who fell for someone's "sick joke" ... and he's really embarrassed over the scandal that's erupted over his not-really-dead girlfriend.

Back in September, Te'o told multiple media outlets that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua had died after a bout with cancer ... hours after his grandmother passed away.   The story was so emotional, it helped catapult him to fame.

But earlier today, a story broke that Lennay was a fiction -- which means she never died because she never lived.  Question is ... was Manti in on the hoax?

According to Manti ... the answer is no. The football star now says:

"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.

To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.

It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.

I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.

In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.

Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."

Are you buyin' what he's sellin'?

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Manti Te'o

GF's Death was a HOAX

1/16/2013 2:01 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
breaking news

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Notre Dame superstar linebacker Manti Te'o -- a 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist -- may have helped to trick the media into believing he had a girlfriend who died back in September ... when in fact, she never existed ... this according to Deadspin.com. 

The tragic storyline captivated the nation during Notre Dame's incredible 2012 season -- with countless stories from dozens of major media outlets detailing how Manti persevered after the death of his GF Lennay Kekua and had the season of his life.

Problem is, according to Deadspin, there is no hard evidence proving Lennay Kekua ever existed ... and no official records confirming a person by the name of Lennay Kekua passed away when Manti claims she died.

According to Deadspin, Manti and "Lennay" communicated through social media sites ... but the report suggests that "Lennay" was not a real person -- her account was controlled by someone purporting to be her.

Deadspin says the photos "Lennay" used to identify herself on social media sites were of a Southern California woman who has never met Manti Te'o.

The article also suggests Manti has a connection with the person suspected of acting as "Lennay" on Twitter -- and even goes as far to suggest Manti was in on the hoax because he knew the sob story would generate publicity.

FYI -- Manti is expected to be a high pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

So far, Manti has not commented on the story. We also tried to reach out to Manti -- but our efforts have been unsuccessful.

update_bar
2:26 PM PT -- Notre Dame has released the following statement ...saying Te'o is merely the VICTIM in the hoax and not a participant. Here's the statement:

"On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia."

"The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."

But something doesn't add up ... because Te'o's father had gone on record during the season saying Manti told him he and the GF would often meet up in Hawaii.

So was the father lying? Or was Manti lying?

Something ain't right.

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