U.S. Secret Service joins investigation into Syracuse University associate head basketball coach Bernie FineJames Cohen in Syracuse.com, November 25, 2011
DeWitt, NY -- The investigation of sexual abuse allegations against Syracuse University associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine accelerated Friday afternoon as a dozen federal agents and Syracuse police searched Fine’s home for hours.
While the SU men’s basketball team played at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Fine was watching authorities search for evidence throughout his $300,000 DeWitt home.
Officers from the U.S. Secret Service, Syracuse police and New York State Police converged at about 1:45 p.m. at the 7001 Tiffany Circle home Fine owns across the street from SU head coach Jim Boeheim’s house. The crews remained until 9 p.m., with work that included taking pictures, looking through trash and removing three filing cabinets.
Friday’s action signals that federal prosecutors are now partners on the investigation with Syracuse police, which is feuding with the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office, and that federal laws are now available if the case progresses.
The search warrant came eight days after allegations became public accusing Fine of sexually abusing two Central New York men, beginning when they were children. One of the men, former SU ball boy Bobby Davis, claimed that Fine had molested him in the mid-1980s and 1990s, beginning when Davis was about 12. Davis’ stepbrother, Michael Lang, also a former SU ball boy, made similar charges from before that period.
Fine, 65, has denied the allegations.
The search suggests the probe has taken a new direction and involves allegations of more recent behavior than accusations of long-ago abuse, said veteran criminal defense attorney Edward Z. Menkin, of Syracuse, who is not involved in the case. “To me, it indicates this is a serious step in a new direction ...,” he said. “Common sense tells me it’s unlikely in the extreme that it has anything to do with the allegations reported on ESPN or The Post-Standard.”
Syracuse University placed Fine on administrative leave Nov. 17, shortly after ESPN reported allegations against Fine and after city police announced they were investigating him.
James Cohen, an assistant professor of law at Fordham University and a criminal defense attorney, said there are a number of ways federal authorities could claim jurisdiction over such a case. He said sexual acts involving children who are transported across state lines could be prosecuted as a federal crime.
Davis, who lived in Fine’s house as a teen and baby-sat his children, told The Post-Standard he was sexually abused by Fine after traveling with SU’s team on out-of-state trips, including to the Final Four in New Orleans in 1987, when Davis was 15.
Police Search Bernie Fine's House Police Search Bernie Fine's House Investigators from various agencies began a search today of Syracuse University associate men's basketball coach Bernie Fine's house, in Fayetteville. Watch video
Child pornography viewed on the Internet also warrants federal intervention, Cohen said. Among other roles, the Secret Service has expertise in computer crimes. Cohen said the search warrant executed Friday likely gives federal agents permission to investigate a range of “containers” of information, including computers, credit card bills and cellphone records.
Fine’s attorney, Karl Sleight, could not be reached.
Early in Friday’s search, four state troopers stood at the foot of Fine’s driveway. Others kneeled outside the house, looking through a trash can as Fine’s wife of 26 years, Laurie, walked nearby. Shortly after 3 p.m., agents could be seen talking to Bernie Fine at the door of his house.
A Syracuse police crime scene van was parked in the driveway. Three marked state police cars and three marked city police cruisers were parked on the street. So were six or more civilian vehicles, although it was uncertain which belonged to police and which to news media.
Police at the scene referred reporters to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Albany. Assistant U.S Attorney William Pericak, reached in Albany, said he could neither confirm nor deny a search was taking place.
Police could be seen walking the knolls that line two sides of the Fine property. Three officers later were seen moving patio furniture out from behind the home’s attached garage. Neighbors occasionally drove or walked past. A second police evidence van arrived at the scene shortly after 5 p.m., and an officer wheeled in a dolly.
A van from Fradon Lock Co. also arrived at the house. Around 8 p.m., agents took out a large file cabinet. Two more cabinets were taken. As the agents worked, leaning against the side of the house was a sign in SU’s blue and orange that read, “We believe in your innocence, Bernie. We love you.”
Nowhere in sight was anyone from the staff of Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who has publicly blasted Syracuse police Chief Frank Fowler for his department’s handling of the case and for failing to provide Fitzpatrick with records from the investigation.
Davis went to Syracuse police in 2002 with child-molesting allegations against Fine. He said he talked to a detective for about five minutes. He heard nothing from police for nine years. Davis’ former girlfriend, Danielle Roach, said she tried to take Davis’ allegations to the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office that same year.
Roach left messages, but prosecutors never returned her phone calls, she said.
Neither the police department nor the district attorney’s office launched an investigation until this month, when Roach went to Syracuse police on Davis’ behalf and his stepbrother came forward.