INDIANAPOLIS – A University of Notre Dame graduate who launched a campaign to raise money for a cancer research group in memory of linebacker Manti Te'o's girlfriend says he is "shell-shocked" to learn the woman didn't exist.
Dan Tudesco, a 2006 graduate who now works in public relations in New York, set up an online account at fundraising website indiegogo.com on Jan. 9 to solicit $5,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Inc. The initial pitch said donations would go to the society in memory of Lennay Kekua, who reportedly died last fall, and in honor of Te'o, "two individuals who have been an inspiration to us through an iconic season."
Tudesco said he and three friends got the fundraising idea after a seeing a video that went viral of Te'o holding his head in dismay during the Irish's 42-14 loss to Alabama in the national championship game on Jan. 7.
The goal was to turn the loss — and the player's sudden popularity — into something positive.
"I think we were all kind of disappointed in the result of the game ... and the Manti story was very inspirational," Tudesco told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Notre Dame took notice of Tudesco's tweets about the fund drive and sent a university videographer to shoot an interview with him. The video was posted on the Notre Dame athletics YouTube channel Tuesday.
Tudesco said "everybody is kind of surprised and a little shell-shocked right now" after Deadspin.com reported Wednesday that Kekua didn't exist. But he said he didn't believe Notre Dame was aware of the hoax when it promoted his fundraiser.
"It would surprise me that Notre Dame would want to promote this if they knew something like this was going on," Tudesco said.
However, Notre Dame officials said Wednesday that they became aware of the hoax on Dec. 26, nearly two weeks before the championship game. University spokesman Dennis Brown didn't immediately respond to a request seeking comment Thursday.
Tudesco said he doesn't know Te'o personally and had no contact with him or Notre Dame before setting up the fundraiser. He said money raised by his fundraiser will be held in reserve by indiegogo and released directly to the charity at the end of the campaign.
"We actually never directly receive or touch the money at any point," he said.
Tudesco said the campaign hasn't received any new donations since the news of the hoax broke late Wednesday, though he hopes people continue to donate to the fund drive.