ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine is dropping his defamation lawsuit against ESPN, his lawyers said Tuesday.
Fine sued over broadcasts aired by ESPN with claims by two former ball boys that Fine molested them more than two decades ago. Fine was fired in November 2011, days after the broadcasts.
The 67-year-old Fine was investigated by federal prosecutors and never charged and has maintained his innocence.
William Albert, spokesman for the Harris Beach law firm, said Fine voluntarily filed notice of dismissal Tuesday although both he and his attorneys believe his legal claim has merit.
“Mr. Fine desires to finally put all of the turmoil of the past year and a half behind him, so that he may concentrate on his future as well as the future of his family,” Albert said. He added that Fine has been overwhelmed by the many friends who stood by him.
An ESPN spokesman said Tuesday’s withdrawal was not the result of a settlement but declined to comment further. “Given the continued pendency of the Laurie Fine matter, which we will continue to defend vigorously, we will not discuss litigation,” Josh Krulewitz said.
The ex-coach’s wife, Laurie Fine, has a separate defamation suit against ESPN pending in federal court. It was filed in May 2012, with trial tentatively set for November 2014.
After a probe spanning nearly a year, federal authorities dropped their investigation into one of the sexual abuse claims against Fine, saying there was not enough evidence to support a claim that Fine had molested a boy in a Pittsburgh hotel room in 2002.
The investigation began in the immediate aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State. Two former Syracuse ball boys, Bobby Davis and stepbrother Michael Lang, came forward and accused Fine 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.
Fine was fired Nov. 27, 2011, after Tomaselli came forward and the federal government began investigating Tomaselli’s claim, the only one that fell within the statute of limitations.
Tomaselli was accused of sexually abusing a boy at a camp in 2010 and his father had said his son was lying about Fine. Tomaselli, who eventually was convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to three years and three months in prison, insisted he was telling the truth.
Before he went to jail, Tomaselli took the media on a wild spin, repeatedly lying in a bid, he said, to keep his name in print.