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Man at center of hoax says he was in love with Manti Te’o

Dr. Phil McGraw interviews Ronaiah Tuiasosopo during a two-part interview that will conclude on CBS on Friday.

associated press/cbs television

Dr. Phil McGraw interviews Ronaiah Tuiasosopo during a two-part interview that will conclude on CBS on Friday.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo fell in love with Manti Te'o and said all his energy went into pretending to be the woman the Notre Dame linebacker came to know as Lennay Kekua.

Tuiasosopo, the 22-year-old mastermind of the elaborate hoax that embarrassed Te'o and left him looking gullible, spoke publicly for the first time in an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw for the ‘‘Dr. Phil Show,’’ the first part of which aired Thursday.

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Tuiasosopo said Te'o knew nothing of the scam, and doesn’t believe he ever suspected Kekua was fake.

‘‘He had no involvement,’’ Tuiasosopo said. ‘‘He did not know anything.’’

Tuiasosopo said he built the online persona of Kekua, a nonexistent woman who Te'o said he fell in love with despite never meeting in person. Tuiasosopo then killed off the character last September.

‘‘I pretty much had this escape of Lennay and this was where my heart had pretty much invested, not just time, but all of my energy went into this,’’ Tuiasosopo said.

He said he felt Kekua was a part of him, and grew feelings and emotions for Te'o that he could not control. He acknowledged that the hoax was cruel, but said it was never intended as a joke and that he got no financial gain from it.

‘‘As twisted and confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person,’’ he said, referring to Te'o.

Tuiasosopo said he felt Te'o became a better person as a result of the relationship.

‘‘If you really look at all his interviews, he felt that,’’ he said. ‘‘When he was under the understanding that he lost her, he realized all the good that Lennay had done for him.’’

Through a spokesman, the Te'o family declined comment.

Tuisasosopo said he decided to confess to Te'o earlier this month as the hoax was unraveling because he felt he could not go any further with his own life until the truth was out.

Tuiasosopo said he killed the Kekua character on the day Te'o learned his grandmother died, following an argument with the football star.

Te'o had told Kekua he didn’t need her, Tuiasosopo said. ‘‘It hurt me,’’ he said. ‘‘It hit me like a brick wall.”

Tuiasosopo originally created Kekua using photos he copied from a high school classmate’s profile.

Tuiasosopo said he was the voice of Kekua but initially refused to recreate it when pressed by McGraw. He eventually agreed to do the voice behind a privacy screen, something McGraw promised to show during part two of the interview on Friday.

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