A young woman whose image was stolen and used as the face of Manti Te'o's fictitious girlfriend said she had no idea who the American football star was until her photograph was thrust into the spotlight last week.
Diane O'Meara claims she is the victim of identity theft on social media and has found herself unwillingly caught up in a "very twisted and confusing scenario" in which she became the face of Te'o's "girlfriend" Lennay Kekua, who never existed.
Te'o, a star footballer at the University of Notre Dame in the US and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, claims he is the victim of a cruel and baffling online hoax in which someone using the fictitious name of Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with him.
Despite never physically meeting Kekua, Te'o, 21, said he believed he was in a relationship with the woman and communicated with her online and spoke daily to her on the phone.
But photos purportedly showing Kekua on social media were taken from the Facebook account of O'Meara, a 23-year-old marketing executive from Los Angeles.
"It's very bizarre and it's a very twisted and confusing scenario," O'Meara told NBC's Today programme.
"I've never met Manti Te'o in my entire life. I've never spoken with him. I've never exchanged words, tweets (with him)."
The story of Te'o's cancer-stricken girlfriend became an essential part of his personal narrative.
In September last year, Kekua was said to have died of leukaemia, shortly after she was seriously injured in a car crash in California.
After learning she died, Te'o went out and made 12 tackles against Michigan State and played a starring role in his team's stellar season.
It remains unclear whether Te'o was duped, as he claims, or whether he played any part in fabricating the fictitious story for publicity.
The photos depicting the fictional Kekua in her Twitter account were taken from the Facebook page of O'Meara, who went to high school with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the alleged perpetrator of the hoax.
"The past five years, (Tuiasosopo) has literally been stalking my Facebook and stealing my photos," O'Meara told NBC.
"Ronny has called and not only confessed, but he has also apologised. I don't think there's anything he could say to me that would fix this."
She claims that in December she received an odd message on Facebook from Tuiasosopo, who she had not spoken to in years but was Facebook friends with.
She said Tuiasosopo claimed one of his cousins who was involved in a car accident had seen O'Meara's Facebook photos and thought she was pretty, so Tuiasosopo asked if she could take a picture for his cousin.
She complied, and the photo was used as part of the hoax. O'Meara was stunned when she received a phone call from reporters at the sports website Deadspin who uncovered the scandal.
NBC said Tuiasosopo has not returned repeated calls for comment.
Tuiasosopo's father wrote on Facebook: “It's my hope and prayer that we allow the truth to take its course, wherever that may lead."
Te'o and his parents will speak publicly about the scandal for the first time in an interview with Katie Couric, due to be aired in the US on Thursday (Friday NZT).
- Sydney Morning Herald