(Reuters) - A man who last fall accused former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine of molesting him as a child now says he made up the whole story.
Zach Tomaselli, reached by telephone on Friday evening at his home in Lewiston, Maine, said he lied about being abused by Fine, who was fired from his job as an assistant to legendary coach Jim Boeheim.
He first recanted his accusations in a phone call to the Syracuse Post-Standard on Thursday night, hours after his own sentencing on child abuse charges.
"I'm just ready to step forward and admit that I fabricated the Bernie Fine story," Tomaselli said in a recorded call on the Post-Standard's website. The audio was posted on Friday after the paper said it had confirmed Tomaselli made the call.
Separately, in an email to a reporter for Syracuse-area news website cnycentral.com, Tomaselli said: "I made the ENTIRE thing up. I have never met Bernie in my life."
Asked by Reuters on Friday if those reports were accurate, he said: "Yeah, that's correct."
Tomaselli, 23, was one of three men who accused Fine of abuse. His was the only accusation recent enough to fall within the statute of limitations for prosecution, and federal authorities were investigating his claim that Fine molested him in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002.
The others accusers were former ball boys for the basketball team Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, who have since sued the university and Boeheim for calling them liars when they accused Fine of abusing them for years as children.
The university, located in Syracuse, New York, has one of the most prominent college basketball programs in the United States.
Tomaselli was sentenced on Thursday to more than three years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old boy at a Maine camp where he worked as a counselor. He is due to begin that prison term on Wednesday, he said.
In the recorded call to the newspaper, Tomaselli said he saw a news report last fall about Davis and Lang's claims and started to make up his own story.
"I told a friend from New York to see if he would believe it when I grew up with him. I said, ‘Bernie Fine abused me, Oh my God.' You know kind of like a joke at first. He was like 'Really?' and I'm like well if I can get him to believe it...," Tomaselli said.
"One lie led to another. It grew and grew and grew and it was amazing to see it grow," he said of the media cascade touched off by the scandal.
Tomaselli said his lie was motivated in part by a "hatred" of Syracuse because he is a fan of a rival basketball team.
Syracuse University spokesman Kevin Quinn declined comment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Duncan, whose office was investigating the Tomaselli's claim over the winter, did not immediately return a call for comment.
(Reporting By Barbara Goldberg and Dan Burns; Editing by Eric Beech)