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Feds drop sex abuse case against Syracuse's Fine

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Feds drop sex abuse case against Syracuse's Fine

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Federal authorities have dropped their investigation into one of the sexual abuse claims that cost a Syracuse University assistant basketball coach his job, threw a top-ranked team into turmoil and threatened the career of Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.

After a probe spanning nearly a year, U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian said Friday there was not enough evidence to support a claim that Bernie Fine had molested a boy in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002.

``The nature and seriousness of these allegations, which involved conduct typically committed in private with individuals who are reluctant to come forward, warranted a thorough federal investigation,'' Hartunian said.

It's unclear whether Fine, 66, could get his job back.

His lawyers, Karl Sleight, Donald Martin and David Botsford, said in a statement that they were not surprised by the decision.

``The damage inflicted upon Bernie and his family is simply immeasurable,'' the lawyers said. ``Bernie hopes and prays that the lesson learned and remembered is that a rush to judgment has irreversible consequences.''

The investigation erupted in the glare of a spotlight on child abuse shone by the Penn State University scandal, which broke shortly beforehand. Two former Syracuse ballboys, Bobby Davis and Michael Lang, came forward Nov. 17 and accused the longtime assistant of fondling them when they were teens. Davis said the sexual contact continued for years.

But the claims by Davis and Lang had happened too long ago to be prosecuted. Ten days later, though, a third man, 23-year-old Zachary Tomaselli, of Lewiston, Maine, went public with an accusation that Fine had molested him in 2002 in a hotel room when the team played in Pittsburgh. The same day, ESPN aired an audiotape in which Fine's wife, Laurie Fine, apparently acknowledged to Davis she knew about the molestation he alleged.

Bernie Fine, who denied the allegations, was fired Nov. 27, and the federal government began investigating Tomaselli's claim, the only one that fell within the statute of limitations. The federal statute of limitations that went into effect in 2002 allows prosecution until the victim reaches age 25; Tomaselli was 23 when he made his claims.

Hartunian, in his statement, said closing the investigation doesn't mean something did or did not happen, only that there wasn't enough admissible evidence to get a conviction. He said that people should come forward with tips if they have any more information.

Davis had made the same accusation against Fine to the university and Syracuse police a decade before, but the police couldn't investigate because of the statute of limitations, and the school said its probe turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. Davis did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.

From the start, there were doubts.

When Davis and Lang came forward in November, Boeheim angrily defended his assistant of 35 years and said the accusers were only out for money, seeking to cash in on the publicity generated by the Penn State scandal, in which former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing several boys.

Another accuser, Floyd Van Hooser, said Fine abused him for years but later said he was lying.

That left Tomaselli, who was accused of sexually abusing a boy at a camp in 2010 and whose father had said the boy was lying. Tomaselli, who eventually was convicted of sexual abuse and started a prison sentence of three years and three months in April, insisted Friday that he was telling the truth about Fine.

Before he went behind bars, Tomaselli took the media on a wild spin, repeatedly lying in a bid, he said, to keep his name in print:

- He said Fine had made harassing phone calls to him, and he got an order of protection. Then he said that was a lie.

- He said he had lied about the whole thing, that Fine had never touched him.

- He reverted to his old claim and insisted Fine abused him.

Tomaselli said Friday by phone from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine, that he had a ``mental breakdown'' when he recanted. He said sports figures have too much power and that may contribute to no one believing him, and he thanked law enforcement officials for thoroughly investigating his allegations even after his credibility was called into question.

There were other sordid claims to come out, including that Fine's wife had sex with players and that Boeheim knew, or should have known, of his assistant's behavior.

While his No. 1-ranked Orange continued to rack up wins - they wouldn't drop their first game until Jan. 21 - Boeheim endured criticism and scrutiny and was questioned during news conferences about the case.

Boeheim, who just completed his 36th year coaching Syracuse, vehemently supported his longtime assistant when the accusations broke and said Davis was lying. ``The Penn State thing came out, and the kid behind this is trying to get money,'' he told the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Amid criticism from victims' rights advocates, Boeheim apologized and said he spoke out of loyalty and was basing his comments on a 2005 university investigation that failed to corroborate Davis' claims.

Boeheim referred questions to the university's press office. University spokesman Kevin Quinn said that Syracuse appreciated the work done by the U.S. attorney's office and that the decision to fire Fine was appropriate.

``It was made in the best interest of the university,'' Quinn said.

Davis and Lang sued Boeheim and the university for defamation, but a judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Boeheim's defense of his friend was clearly opinion.

Attorney Gloria Allred, representing the two men, said, ``The DOJ's decision does not indicate that there is or is not merit to the allegations against Mr. Fine, and it does not vindicate him.''

Fine, who put his Syracuse home on the market in March, has been in Florida and was recently hired as a consultant for an Israeli basketball team.

Laurie Fine has sued ESPN, alleging defamation and claiming the network knew that Davis was lying and ruined her life. That suit is pending.

The university's prompt response to the allegations was done in good faith but was flawed because, among other things, there was no direct contact with law enforcement, a special committee of the university's board of trustees said in a report released in July.

Davis met Fine in the early 1980s at a park that was a basketball hangout for kids in a working-class neighborhood. After he became a ball boy in 1983 around age 11, Davis said, he went everywhere with Fine.

Fine turned into a father figure, and as Davis spent more time at the older man's house - actually living there sometimes - the abuse escalated from touching outside the pants to inside, according to Davis.

During an interview in December with The Associated Press, Davis said the abuse would sometimes occur in Fine's campus office with secretaries just beyond the closed door, at Syracuse basketball camp and at a fraternity house.

Some of the abuse would occur in Davis' bed in Fine's basement while Fine's wife was home, Davis said.

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Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this story from Portland, Maine.

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Alex Ovechkin in the lineup shows just how important Wednesday vs. Toronto really is

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Alex Ovechkin in the lineup shows just how important Wednesday vs. Toronto really is

The Capitals have one last piece of business to tend to before the All-Star break. They head to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) in an absolute must-win for Washington.

Here’s what you need to watch.

Alex Ovechkin is in

Because Ovechkin decided not to participate in the All-Star Game, he has to serve a one-game suspension. The team had the option of Ovechkin missing the last game before the All-Star break or the first game back. Ovechkin was asked after the game Tuesday if he would be playing against the Leafs and he said yes. Head coach Todd Reirden confirmed that he would indeed be playing Wednesday. So, coming off a hat trick performance, Ovechkin will be back in the lineup Wednesday in Toronto.

The decision comes as no surprise. The Caps desperately need a win Wednesday or they will head into the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak which will fester until the team finally returns to the ice after the bye week.

Ironically enough, the last time Ovechkin played in Toronto was on Nov. 25, 2017, the famous Alex Luey game in which Ovechkin also tallied a hat trick.

By playing Wednesday, Ovechkin will have to sit out the team’s first game back from the break on Feb. 1 against the Calgary Flames.

Who will play in net?

With the high stakes of this game, could we see Braden Holtby back between the pipes despite playing Tuesday? It’s possible.

Reirden said after Tuesday’s game that he had not yet reached a decision on which goalie would play in Toronto. On the one hand, this is a game the team really needs to win so it would make sense to play your top netminder especially before the prolonged All-Star break. On the other, Holtby has really struggled in his past two outings giving up four goals to Chicago on just 11 shots and seven goals to San Jose on 43 shots. Holtby’s break will also be shorter given that he will be participating in the All-Star festivities.

Pheonix Copley has been a dependable backup this season, but he certainly seems to be showing some cracks the last few games. He has given up 14 goals in his last three appearances, one of which was only half a game in Chicago.

It’s been a long time since Washington has lost seven straight

The last time the Caps lost seven straight games was in January 2014.

From Jan. 12 to Jan. 24, the Caps went 0-5-2 in Adam Oates’ second and last season behind the bench. That streak was particularly messy as Washington had three goalies on the roster -- Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and Michal Neuvirth -- and all three played during that stretch.

What should concern Caps fans the most is that not only was that the last time Washington lost seven straight, it was also the last time it missed the playoffs.

Toronto could really use this game too

For any optimists out there thinking maybe the Leafs will be looking ahead to the break and may just mentally take this game off, that’s not going to happen. Toronto needs this game about as much as the Caps do.

The Maple Leafs have lost four of their last five and seven of their last 10. Given what hockey means in Toronto, you can guess what the mood is like in that city. To say people are panicking would be grossly underselling it.

When the puck drops on Wednesday, two desperate hockey teams will be facing off.

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Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

The 2019 NBA All-Star starters are set to be announced on Thursday and Wizards guard Bradley Beal is not optimistic he will be chosen. That is despite a growing number of supporters in the media, but Beal understands their votes only count for 25 percent of the equation.

Fan voting makes up 50 percent and NBA players the remaining 25 percent. With Beal in a distant 10th among Eastern Conference guards in the fan voting rounds that have been made public, he has set his expectations accordingly.

"I'm not going to be a starter so it doesn't matter," he quipped after Wizards practice on Wednesday. "I'm positive. Let's just be honest. Right? We all can be honest, right?"

Beal, who made his first All-Star team last season as a reserve, will almost certainly be an All-Star again this year one way or another. Coaches vote on reserves and those will be announced on Jan. 31.

But Beal has a solid case to be a starter despite his Wizards sitting at just 20-26 and outside of the playoff picture. He is posting career-highs in points (24.7), rebounds (5.0), assists (5.0), steals (1.3) and blocks (0.9). He has appeared in all 46 of the Wizards games this season while many of his teammates have been absent due to injury.

Boston's Kyrie Irving appears to be a lock for one of the two starting guard spots in the East. He has a strong case with his numbers, his team's success and has fared well in fan voting. But the second spot has no clear favorite.

Ben Simmons has played well for a good Sixers team. Victor Oladipo of the Pacers also has a case, though due to injuries his numbers have fallen off.

Kyle Lowry has helped the Raptors post one of the league's best records. Kemba Walker of the Hornets has had the best season of his career and plays for the hometown team with the game taking place in Charlotte.

There is also Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, a future Hall of Famer who might be a starter if it were based solely on fan voting. If he gets support from players or media votes, he could get in as a legacy pick given this is the final season of his legendary career.

Basically, Beal has a lot of competition. He gets it and insists he isn't losing sleep over the pending announcement.

"Even then I don't let it consume me. It's not like a goal of mine like 'oh, I've gotta be an All-Star.' If I am, it's great. It's even more motivation to continue to get better. Even if I'm not an All-Star, I'm not going to be mad or upset," he said.

Beal said his No. 1 goal is winning and mentioned how the Wizards remain six games under .500 despite reeling off seven of their last 10. Washington happens to be hosting the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, so he has plenty on his plate.

Beal will likely be an All-Star representing the Wizards in the Feb. 17 showcase. But it doesn't sound like he will be doing any of the other festivities.

Beal has participated in the three-point contest twice in his career and both times was a runner-up. He has not been invited yet to this year's contest and probably won't participate even if he is asked.

"I would probably take a break this year because it was definitely a lot last year, just all the off-court stuff," he said. "I'm not saying I won't do it for the rest of my career, but I don't think I'm doing it this year."

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