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Federal law expires on ball boy claims against Syracuse coach

By Aman Ali

NEW YORK (Reuters) - There is no way to prosecute a former Syracuse University coach over sex abuse allegations by two former ball boys because both federal and state statutes of limitation have expired, a state prosecutor said on Monday.

That means that any case is likely to center on allegations of a third man, 23-year-old Zach Tomaselli, who has accused former assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine of sexual abuse, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said.

But new information provided on Monday by Fitzpatrick raised questions about the veracity of Tomaselli's claim that Fine sexually abused him when he was 13 in a Pittsburgh hotel where the team was staying in 2002.

The state prosecutor's comments about the limits of federal law echoed his revelation last week that the state statute of limitations prevented him from prosecuting Fine over the molestation allegations of former ball boys Bobby Davis, now 39, and his stepbrother Mike Lang, now 45.

Authorities last month began investigating their allegations that Fine sexually abused them from childhood until Davis was 27 and Lang was 19. State law requires victims to come forward within five years of their 18th birthday.

Fine, who has called the allegations "patently false", has not been charged with any crime.

In an online chat hosted by the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper on Monday, Fitzpatrick, who has turned over the investigation to federal authorities, said legal limits appeared to tie federal prosecutors' hands as well.

"I've been informed that the statute of limitations has run (out) for any allegations involving Bobby Davis and Mike Lang in both state and federal court," Fitzpatrick said.

Current federal law has no time limits for prosecuting sex abuse crimes so long as the victim is still alive, but that rule was not around in the 1980s when the alleged abuse took place. As a result, their allegations are not protected under current law, a source familiar with the investigation said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Duncan declined to comment on his office's investigation or if the window to prosecute Davis and Lang's allegations had expired.

FOCUS ON TOMASELLI

Fitzpatrick said that moving forward, any federal case may focus on Tomaselli, who is himself facing charges of abusing a 13-year-old boy and has said he planned to plead guilty.

Tomaselli has told Reuters that Fine arranged for him to take a bus with Syracuse support staff to the game where he would stay in the same Pittsburgh hotel room as Fine.

Asked about the support bus, Fitzpatrick said on Monday that "there is no evidence to indicate" the bus went to the game.

Fitzpatrick had said last week he had handed over evidence to Fine's attorneys that could be used to exonerate their client such as Tomaselli's attendance records at his school in Copenhagen, New York, and the Syracuse basketball team's travel records that day.

Fine's attorneys could not be reached for comment but said last week: "It appears now that there is proof that Tomaselli fabricated this allegation."

Tomaselli filed a civil lawsuit last week against Fine regarding the 2002 incident. His attorney Jeff Anderson declined on Monday to discuss what evidence Tomaselli had to verify his allegations.

"We've been asked to not make further comment on the ongoing investigation and we're going to honor that," he said.

Fitzpatrick, who has been criticized for talking too openly about an ongoing federal investigation, said his aim was to "create an atmosphere of support" so that other victims could come forward.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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