Saper Law Offices has fielded a number of questions about the scandal surrounding Manti Te’o and his relationship with the fictitious Lennay Kekua. Beyond presenting an intriguing “whodunit,” the Te’o scandal also raises a number of difficult legal questions. If Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is responsible, as many have alleged thus far, will he be liable for any civil action? Will he be guilty of any crime? Despite the feeling of outrage that poured out of both the professional sports and journalism communities once the truth about Lennay Kekua became known, the answer is not clear cut at all.
Attorney Daliah Saper tackled these legal issues head on from 2008 to 2012 in Bonhomme v. St. James. In that case, defendant Janna St. James deceived plaintiff Paula Bonhomme into conducting an online relationship with her over the course of a year and a half through the creation of a male alter ego, Jesse James.
The hoax was extensive. St. James utilized voice modulators and social media to create a cast of characters who fleshed out her fictional life. These characters inhabited Jesse’s world and corroborated stories that he told Bonhomme, strengthening her belief in his existence. Through these efforts, St. James extracted numerous gifts from her victim, worth thousands of dollars, before she ended the hoax by killing Jesse off–an event which sent Bonhomme into deep depression and medical illness.
Despite this outrageous behavior, St. James escaped legal liability for her actions. At the trial and appellate levels, St. James succeeded in dismissing Bonhomme’s complaint and, due to procedural issues, the Illinois Supreme Court was only able to hear Attorney Saper’s appeal on a single issue from the case–fraudulent misrepresentation. Unfortunately, the Court declined to extend the tort, typically seen in business-related disputes, to the personal level.
If you have found yourself in a similar situation or have questions about the legal ramifications of internet hoaxes, please contact our office.