Feds Take Over Investigation of Fired Syracuse Coach

By Christian Red & Teri Thompson (NY Daily News)
November 28 2011

Bernie Fine is now a federal case.

Apparently seeking broader statutory support and perhaps an end to a bitter feud between local authorities, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of New York took the lead in the investigation into claims that Fine, the former Syracuse assistant basketball coach, sexually abused a former ball boy and two others.

Syracuse police chief Frank Fowler issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Secret Service would head the investigation.

"We have now moved into a new phase of the investigation," the release stated, adding that the Syracuse police department and Chief Frank Fowler are "committed to working with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Secret Service in this investigation."

A source told the Daily News Monday that the Department of Education is also investigating the university to see if there was a failure to comply with the Clery Act, the federal statute that requires colleges and universities to report sexual abuse crimes. The DOE announced Nov. 9 that it was conducting a similar investigation at Penn State, where former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of minors.

Fowler also said Monday his office will hand over information about the case to Onondago County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick from 2002, when former Syracuse ball boy Bobby Davis reported to that city's police that he had been molested by Fine. Davis was told then that the statute of limitations had run out on the accusations.

A dispute had arisen between Fitzpatrick's and Fowler's offices over the handling of the explosive case in which Fine, an assistant to Jim Boeheim for 35 years, has been accused by Davis, his stepbrother and a third man, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli of Lewiston, Me., of abusing them when they were boys.

Syracuse police reopened the case on Nov. 17 when Davis again told police he had been molested. This time, Davis' stepbrother, Mike Lang, told police he, too, had been molested by Fine.

Fitzpatrick complained that police had not turned over information from Davis, then accused Fowler of leaking contents of an affidavit provided by Davis' girlfriend, Danielle Roach, in which Roach said she had left messages with the DA's office in 2002 to report the abuse but had not been called back by anyone. The two were headed to court Monday to resolve the dispute when Fowler agreed to turn over the information from the investigation.

"The Syracuse Police Department will provide the information requested by the Onandaga County District Attorney's Office on Tuesday," Fowler's office said.

Fitzpatrick said Monday that he, too, would cooperate fully with the federal investigation, saying he has been "in close contact with the U.S. Attorney."

"We're acting in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office," he said. "I'm not doing anything without checking with them."

Fitzpatrick said the investigation centers on determining if Fine can be prosecuted.

"The U.S. Attorney is, as I am, interested in finding out if there are any prosecutable (persons)," Fitzpatrick said.

For the feds to assume jurisdiction in the investigation, they would have to rely on statutory authority that could include a range of crimes that wouldn't violate statute of limitations constraints, including sexual or physical abuse or kidnapping of a child under 18; crossing state lines to commit a crime against a child; or the use of interstate commerce, or the Internet, to commit a crime against a child.

Pittsburgh police announced Monday they will open an investigation in conjunction with the existing investigations into Tomaselli's claims that he was molested by Fine in January 2002 at a Pittsburgh hotel room, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Tomaselli was 13 at the time, and if proven, that alleged abuse might be prosecutable in federal court.

"A federal case is difficult to overcome for a defendant," said Tom Harvey, a New York criminal defense lawyer who is following the case for The News. "Their statutes are more wide-ranging and inclusive and can widen the statute of limitations. For a potential defendant to be under a federal investigation is never a good thing."