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Published: Friday, 7/24/2009

Roethlisberger denies assault claim

BY JONATHAN D. SILVER
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stands behind Ben Roethlisberger as the quarterback delivers a 61-second statement on accusations that he raped a Nevada casino worker. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stands behind Ben Roethlisberger as the quarterback delivers a 61-second statement on accusations that he raped a Nevada casino worker.
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PITTSBURGH - With pursed lips and a somber expression, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger denied to the world yesterday that he sexually assaulted a Nevada casino worker who claims in a lawsuit that he raped her last summer.

"The allegations against me are reckless and false," Roethlisberger, 27, told reporters at the Steelers' UPMC training facility on the South Side, speaking publicly about the case for the first time.

He did not address whether he had any sexual relations with the woman, a 31-year-old Canadian national who has worked in Nevada since at least 2003.

The woman sued Roethlisberger Friday in civil court in Washoe County, Nev., claiming he raped her July 11, 2008, after luring her into his 17th-floor room at Harrah's Lake Tahoe resort under false pretenses.

Also named in the complaint are eight current or former mostly high-level Harrah's employees accused of, among other things, trying to cover up the alleged incident.

At the time, Roethlisberger, a Findlay native, was participating in the American Century Championship golf tournament and the woman was acting as a concierge for the event tasked with serving celebrity guests.

Word came yesterday around 11:30 a.m. that Roethlisberger was prepared to break his silence within a few hours. Around 2 p.m., Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett told a reporter, "It's going to be a brief statement, and he's not going to take any questions."

A few minutes later, Roethlisberger strode into the media conference room on the facility's second floor and took his place behind a black lectern adorned with the Steelers logo.

Referring to a piece of paper, he launched into a prepared statement without preamble and spoke for 61 seconds. His demeanor was grim.

Although Roethlisberger named his accuser, the Block News Alliance is withholding her identity in keeping with a policy of not naming alleged victims of sexual assault.

"I did not sexually assault [the woman]. Saturday was the first that I learned of her accusations," Roethlisberger said, his words carried live on local TV stations and ESPN.

Her attorney, Calvin R.X. Dunlap, confirmed yesterday that Roethlisberger was served with the suit while he was attending this year's golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, which ran from July 14 to this past Sunday.

"Her false and vicious allegations are an attack on my family and on me. I would never, ever force myself on a woman. I'm going to fight to protect my family and my reputation," Roethlisberger continued.

Wearing a brown, pinstripe suit with a pocket square, dress shirt open at the neck and no tie, the two-time Super Bowl winner seemed a bit haggard, sporting stubble and tousled hair.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stood behind Roethlisberger's right shoulder, looking on stoically as his quarterback spoke. Also attending the news conference were Kevin Colbert, the Steelers director of football operations; the quarterback's agent, Ryan Tollner, and his lawyer, William David Cornwell Sr.

Roethlisberger spoke forcefully, and when he said, "I'm not going to discuss my private life or this civil case in the media," he emphasized the words "civil case."

In a statement Monday, Cornwell took pains to note that there has been no criminal complaint or police investigation of the woman's allegations.

Her attorney acknowledges that his client did not seek out the police. Her lawsuit said she was "afraid of the consequences of reporting it to police authorities since it was obvious to her that Harrah's and its personnel would side with and support Roethlisberger."

Records in Douglas County, Nev., show the woman after other incidents had contacted the sheriff's department - this January, March, 2008, and September, 2005 - to report harassment, a burglary at her home, and annoying phone calls, respectively.

The department has said it will not launch an investigation into the rape allegation unless the woman files a complaint.

Roethlisberger said he will remain focused on his team, which heads to training camp at the end of the month.

Hanging on the walls outside the conference room where he was speaking about a low point in his life was a picture of Roethlisberger at a high point: a trophy presentation in February after winning Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.

In closing, Roethlisberger said, "As much as I'd like to answer everyone's questions, I'm going to respect the legal process, and I am confident that the truth will prevail. Thank you."

With that, he turned and walked out, ignoring two shouted questions: How upsetting was the situation, and did he have any sexual relations with his accuser.

Dunlap, contacted after the news conference, said he did not watch it because "I was busy." He declined comment after he was told what the quarterback said.

Staff Writer Dan Majors contributed to this story.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Jonathan D. Silver is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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