By Aman Ali
SYRACUSE, New York (Reuters) - Federal agents have searched the office of former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, accused of fondling ballboys working with the highly ranked college team, a law enforcement source said on Wednesday.
Agents executed the warrant on Tuesday at the university athletic office where Fine worked until Sunday, when he was fired, said the source, who works closely with the law enforcement investigation but did not want to be named.
Three men have accused Fine of sexually abusing them when they were juveniles. Fine has called the accusations against him "patently false in every aspect."
Fine was fired after ESPN aired audio of what it said was a telephone call between Fine's wife Laurie and an alleged victim in which she appeared to admit knowledge of the alleged abuse.
The Syracuse allegations have been compared to the Penn State scandal, in which an assistant football coach was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. The Penn State scandal led to the dismissal of the university president and legendary coach Joe Paterno for failure to tell police about the alleged abuse.
But no charges have been filed against the former Syracuse assistant coach, and a grand jury has just begun looking into the accusations. There is no evidence so far that head Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim knew of the alleged abuse.
Boeheim had initially defended his assistant coach but reversed his stance on Sunday, saying he supported the firing of Fine.
GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION
Federal records showed that Steven Clymer, an assistant U.S. Attorney working on the Fine investigation, was granted a sealed search warrant on Tuesday, but it was unclear if that was related to the abuse allegations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericak of the Northern District of New York declined to comment on the search.
"Search warrants are part of the investigation, and we don't comment on that," he said. "If the search warrant is fruitful and we find evidence, then we are going to charge someone. That's when we'd make an announcement."
A grand jury is investigating accusations that Fine molested a former ball boy, Bobby Davis, 39, and Davis's stepbrother Mike Lang, 45, when they were juveniles.
Lang has said in a CNN interview that Fine touched him inappropriately as a child at least 30-40 times.
Police in Pittsburgh said they were also working with the U.S. Attorney's office in Northern New York regarding allegations by a third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, who said in a televised interview that Fine tried to fondle him in a hotel in 2002.
Federal authorities took the lead in the Fine investigation after questions were raised about how vigorously the Syracuse police pursued a tip nine years ago.
Pericak said it was not uncommon for federal authorities to handle investigations into crimes such as sex with underage minors or child pornography.
"Those are federal offenses," he said. "They're very common to be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office."
Syracuse police have released a timeline of their knowledge of the allegations, showing the police chief knew in 2002 that a former team ball boy had accused Fine but never started an investigation.
Syracuse Chief of Police Frank Fowler said the decision not to pursue an investigation was made by his predecessor, Chief Dennis DuVal, a former Syracuse basketball player from 1971-1974 who later played for two seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Cynthia Johnston)