A prison inmate who was one of four men to accuse a former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach of sexual abuse when they were children has admitted that he made up his claim.
The accuser, Floyd VanHooser, wrote in a letter that he lied to police and in December interviews with The Associated Press and The Post-Standard newspaper of Syracuse. He said he wanted to get back at the coach, Bernie Fine, because Fine did not hire a lawyer to help VanHooser fight a criminal conviction.
Fine had helped raise the 56-year-old VanHooser after his parents died.
Two other men, former Syracuse ball boys in the 1980s, accused Fine late last year of abusing them as children, but the statute of limitations has expired. Fine was fired Nov. 27 after they came forward, ending his 35-plus years as an assistant at Syracuse.
Fine, 66, has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged. Fine's attorney, Karl Sleight, declined to comment on Sunday. A federal investigation is ongoing.
Another man has also accused Fine, though a prosecutor has said that there is evidence that undercuts that claim.
VanHooser told The Associated Press last month that Fine began sexually abusing him when VanHooser was 14 years old. He said the abuse continued as an adult, when the contact included sex acts for money.
VanHooser said both his parents died by the time he was 13 and he moved in with Fine at 14. Though he began running away after six months, VanHooser said he saw Fine on and off for nearly 40 years.
VanHooser said Friday in a prison interview with the newspaper that it's true that he and Fine had a sexual relationship as adults for many years, and it continued until last summer. He said Fine first approached him for sex when he was in his 30s. VanHooser said he was usually high on heroin when they had sex.
On Thursday, The Post-Standard received copies of two letters dated Nov. 29 that VanHooser wrote and mailed to Fine. One letter is addressed to Fine and the other "to whom it may concern."
"In a statement I gave, I told a lot of lies about Bernie Fine. None of what I said was true," VanHooser wrote. "Bernie has been nothing but good to me over the years. He was the only thing I had close to a father. He never did anything wrong. He is a good man."
VanHooser confirmed Friday that he wrote the letters and did so without being asked. When asked if his statements to police were true, VanHooser said only parts were.
When Syracuse police detectives questioned him about Fine's relationship with him as a child, VanHooser said he did not offer specifics.
"They suggested things and I went along with it," VanHooser told the newspaper.
The moment the detectives walked out of the room, VanHooser said, he regretted saying Fine had abused him.
VanHooser said he was still angry with Fine about not helping him hire a lawyer so he repeated the false allegations to the AP and The Post-Standard. He said he wanted "revenge" but did not think "the story would go as far as it did."
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said he was not surprised that VanHooser admitted he lied about Fine. Fitzpatrick said he had not seen VanHooser's letters and did not know that he had recanted.
Fitzpatrick had referred last month during a news conference to an unnamed fourth accuser in the Fine case as someone serving a life sentence in prison and a persistent felon. He said that person's claims were not credible.
"There simply is no victim No. 4," Fitzpatrick said at the time.
VanHooser is serving 16 years to life at Clinton state prison near the Canadian border for several burglaries of Syracuse-area homes. He was sentenced in October as a persistent felony burglar.
VanHooser has listed Fine's former Syracuse address as his own in the past, including on a tax lien from 1999. VanHooser did painting and other maintenance work on Fine's home, and he also worked for several years at a Syracuse University fraternity house where Fine was an adviser.
VanHooser said he never saw Fine abusing children.