CARSON, Calif. (AP) — When Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o ordered two dozen white roses delivered to 21503 Water Street, he says he thought they were headed to the home of his dead girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. In fact, the man implicated as the ringleader of a false-identity hoax and many of his relatives have lived in the single-story, stucco bungalow, according to publicly available records and interviews with neighbors.
Water Street, in a working-class community 13 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, adds another element to the Te’o-Lennay Kekua hoax: the house six doors down, at 21403 Water, belongs to a family named Kekua — an uncommon Hawaiian name but the same one as the fictitious girlfriend at the center of the ruse.
Two members of the real Kekua family told The Associated Press they had never heard of a “Lennay Kekua.”
The Kekua fabrication came to light Wednesday, when Deadspin.com revealed that the story of Te’o's girlfriend dying from leukemia last September was a fake — because Lennay Kekua never existed.
Deadspin suggested Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was the person responsible for carrying out the hoax. Te’o said Friday he had been contacted by the 22-year-old Tuiasosopo, and that the man had admitted to masterminding the scam. Members of the Kekua family and others in the neighborhood told the AP on Saturday that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo had lived at 21503 Water St. and has visited it since moving out about a year ago.
The AP reviewed a compilation of documents about the property from a variety of sources, such as real estate and bankruptcy records.
In specifying where he had sent the roses, Te’o said Friday in an interview with ESPN that he still didn’t know who lives at 21503 Water Street or of any possible connection between the address and the hoax.
But he did say he knew the residents had accepted delivery of the bouquet. “They sent me a picture of the roses, of them getting it,” he said. And they also sent a photo of the flowers that Te’o's parents had delivered “as proof” that their tribute to the nonexistent girlfriend had been received.
Publicly available records indicate that Tuiasosopo used to live at 21503 Water Street. One neighbor said Saturday that Ronaiah had lived in the house for several years, until about a year ago. Another neighbor said that in her 27 years living on the block there had always been a Tuiasosopo living in 21503, including Ronaiah, his father and an uncle, Navy.
Multiple public records indicate that Navy, who played football for Utah State and the Los Angeles Rams, was a brother of former USC football player Titus Tuiasosopo, Ronaiah’s father. A neighbor said Navy had lived at 21503 until his death in 2011.
A Cadillac still registered to Navy Tuiasosopo was parked in the driveway of Titus Tuiasosopo’s home in Palmdale, about 90 miles north of Carson, on Saturday. Titus is the pastor of Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope Valley in Lancaster, Calif., and Ronaiah is active in the church band, and most recently has been living with his father.
In a joint interview Saturday, Barbara Kekua, 78, said she has lived at 21403 Water Street since it was built about 50 years ago. Her daughter, Kris Kekua, 45, grew up there, and moved back two years ago, across the street to 21406 Water, to be near her mother.
The two Kekua women said they do not know why their name was chosen for the scheme.
Kris recalled that when the story of Lennay Kekua’s supposed death made national sports headlines last fall, friends asked if she was related. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know who that is,’” she said.
Kris said she had grown up with Titus and Navy on the block.
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