Grand jury indicts Wager on nine charges
By Shavonne Potts and Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — A Rowan County grand jury has indicted a former Catawba College coach on charges of molesting a boy more than 20 years ago.
Authorities say Ralph William Wager committed the crimes between 1987 and 1989, while he was head soccer coach at Catawba. And investigators allege that at least some of the abuse happened on campus.
Meanwhile, Wager won’t face charges in New York, where he worked before coming to Catawba. A man has accused Wager of molesting him there in the 1960s, but the alleged crimes happened too long ago to be prosecuted, authorities say.
The Rowan investigation began in May when a man contacted the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and said Wager had started sexually abusing him when he was 9 years old.
Police arrested Wager on July 17 at his Charlotte home. He’s charged with three counts each of indecent liberties with a child, crimes against nature and first-degree sex offense of a child, all felonies.
The Rowan grand jury indicted Wager on all nine charges Monday. The grand jury meets behind closed doors and the indictments were not released until Tuesday, after they had been verified.
Authorities say the victim came forward after searching Wager’s name on the Internet and discovering he was still involved with children. Until his arrest, Wager was a coach for the Steele Creek Soccer Club in Charlotte. He has been suspended indefinitely by the N.C. Youth Soccer Association.
The victim was using the pool at Catawba in 1987 when he met Wager, he told investigators. The boy’s mother had cancer and Wager offered to help, then began molesting the boy, according to the statements.
The abuse stopped when the boy’s mother found out and cut off contact between Wager and the child, authorities say. She also notified Catawba officials, who restricted Wager’s access to the pool, a prosecutor said during a bond hearing.
After the boy’s mother died, Wager re-entered the boy’s life and continued molesting him, authorities say. According to a court filing, at least some of the crimes happened in Wager’s on-campus home and office.
Wager — who was put in the college’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 — resigned from Catawba in 1990 citing stress. In the court filing, a prosecutor said Wager left his job “abruptly ... after allegations of improper contact with a minor child came to the attention of campus officials.”
A judge has ordered Catawba to turn over Wager’s personnel records as well as contact information for others who worked at Catawba during the time he was coaching beginning in 1983.
Current Catawba President Brien Lewis has not been available for an interview but has issued statements saying the college is committed to cooperating with detectives and is conducting its own investigation. Former college officials interviewed by the Post have said they don’t recall hearing of the accusations.
Even if they had, they may not face consequences for not telling police.
Janet Mason, a public law and government professor at the University of North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill, said she’s not aware of any legal requirement to report abuse in a case like this.
Law at that time required schools or other institutions to report if they suspected a child was being abused by a parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker, she said.
“There was no similar reporting duty when someone else (commits) the abuse,” Mason said.
No NY charges
Webster Police Department spokesman Lt. Michael Chiapperini said investigators were notified of a “potential victim” earlier this month, but the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office told investigators it was too late to proceed with a case.
“No charges are going to be filed,” Chiapperini said.
The victim lives out of state, Chiapperini said, and no official report was filed, but the man told Webster Police he was molested by Wager in the late 1960s when Wager coached swimming and soccer at Webster Thomas High School near Rochester, N.Y.
Sara Vanstrydonck, an assistant district attorney in Monroe County, N.Y., said the statute of limitations has expired.
“There’s nothing from the 1960s that’s prosecutable in New York State unless it’s murder,” she said.
Vanstrydonck said she was not involved in the abuse allegations against Wager, but said she has worked with Webster Police in previous child abuse cases.
The state statute of limitations was changed in 2006, she said, to allow prosecutors to pursue charges in any child sex abuse claim five years after the initial disclosure to authorities from the child or five years from their 18th birthday.
But the change was not retroactive, Vanstrydonck said.
On Monday, Brandy Cook said the statute of limitations was not a factor in the Rowan County charges.
“I can tell you in North Carolina, for felonies, there is not a statute of limitations,” Cook said.
Wager remains in the Rowan County jail under $1 million bond. A probable cause hearing had been on the docket for today, but the grand jury indictment made that hearing unnecessary.
Wager’s next appearance will be in Superior Court.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.