Bail for former coach now set at $1 million; hearing reveals new allegations

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 26, 2012

By Shavonne Potts
SALISBURY — Bond for a former Catawba College soccer coach accused of molesting a young boy in the 1980s was doubled to $1 million Wednesday after a prosecutor said another alleged victim has come forward.
Assistant District Attorney Seth Banks also told the court during a bond hearing that Wager didn’t deny the allegations when the man he is accused of abusing as a child confronted the former coach at his Charlotte home.
And Banks said Catawba College officials were told by the boy’s mother in the 1980s of allegations made against Wager.
Wager, 69, was charged last week with multiple sex offenses stemming from the alleged abuse, which authorities say happened in 1987 and 1989.
Wager was head coach of the men’s soccer team at Catawba from 1983 until his resignation in 1990. Authorities said he met the victim, who was younger than 10 at the time, when the boy was using the college’s pool.
The victim came forward in May of this year, authorities said, after searching for Wager on the Internet and finding that he still worked with children as a soccer coach.
More recently, a man has claimed that Wager molested him in the 1960s when he was a student in New York, where Wager worked as a coach before coming to Catawba.
Wager has been in the Rowan County jail under a $500,000 bond since his July 18 arrest. He appeared for a Wednesday bond hearing wearing not the typical jail jumpsuit but a dark blue T-shirt, basketball shorts and tennis shoes, the clothes he had on when arrested.
Salisbury attorney Darrin Jordan, who is representing Wager, sought to lower his client’s bond to $100,000. But what the judge heard from the prosecution pushed the amount in the other direction.
Banks said that in a recent jail phone conversation that was recorded, Wager alluded to his intent to head back to New York after being released.
Eddinger paused for some time before saying he believed Wager was a flight risk.
“I’m very disturbed by the background of this case,” Eddinger said.
The judge said he was concerned about the possibility of other victims.
Rowan County Sheriff’s Capt. John Sifford told a Post reporter Wednesday he believed the second man alleging abuse by Wager came forward because of the publicity surrounding the allegations in Rowan County.
“I think he did contact our agency after seeing some information on the Internet,” Sifford said.
Banks said in court the 1960s victim, who now lives in Florida, told his sister about the abuse at some point and the sister recognized Wager’s name from the news.
If charges are filed in that case, Sifford said, they would be filed in New York.
Family friend
Banks said the Rowan County victim was involved in swimming and used the college’s pool facilities.
The man told authorities his mother was dying of cancer and had allowed Wager to watch over him and a sibling, Banks said.
According to Banks, the victim told Rowan County Sheriff’s Office investigators that his mother became aware of the abuse, cut off Wager’s contact with the child and contacted the college in 1987.
Catawba restricted Wager’s access to the college’s pool, Banks said.
After the boy’s mother died, his father allowed Wager back into the family’s life and the abuse continued, according to the victim’s statements to law enforcement.
“I’m disturbed that he would re-initiate contact with the victim while the child was watching his mother die of breast cancer,” Eddinger said.
Wager shook his head in disagreement as Banks spoke.
The prosecutor did not say who or how many people at the college may have known about the accusations against the coach.
Wager was inducted into the college’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 for his accomplishments with the soccer program.
In a letter to employees this week, current Catawba President Brien Lewis said he and the board of trustees had launched an independent investigation of the claims and would review the college’s current policies as well.
When contacted Wednesday for comment about the statements made in court, college spokeswoman Tonia Black-Gold replied, “As previously stated, the college is conducting an internal investigation and that is underway. We continue to cooperate fully with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department investigation.”
The 1980s victim confronted Wager at his Charlotte home and agreed to record the conversation, Banks said. On the recording, Wager appears to apologize to the victim, Banks said.
“He never denies these interactions took place,” Banks said.
The prosecutor said the evidence portrays Wager as someone who exploited a position of trust to take advantage of a young man. Banks said he intends to take the case to trial or work out a plea agreement by the spring.
Supporters speak
Jordan asked the court to approve electronic house arrest for Wager. He said he didn’t feel his client was a danger to the community and that he hadn’t been told of any planned move to New York.
“There’s no reason to think he has a reason to run,” Jordan said.“He wants to clear his name.”
Wager was most recently a coach with Steele Creek Soccer Club in Charlotte but has been suspended by the state association that oversees those clubs.
Jordan said there has been an outpouring of support for Wager from former players and people who know him in Salisbury, New York and Charlotte.
Kathleen Kerins and her husband, Steven Kittelberger, are among his supporters.
Kittelberger, 57, said he’s known Wager since he was 7 years old and Wager was his babysitter. Early in Wager’s time at Catawba, Kittelberger was one of his assistant coaches for a season.
“It’s such a blow to the whole community,” Kittelberger said.
In the past few days, Kerins said she’s spoken with some of the former players who support Wager.
“No one knows him in the type of capacity he’s been accused of,” she said.
Wager has spent holidays with the couple, most recently July 4th at their Maryland home.
“He’s been in my home every holiday for the last 15 or 20 years. I have children. He’s never approached them in that way,” Kerins said.
The case is scheduled to go before a grand jury Monday. An Aug. 1 district court date was also scheduled.
Reporters Sarah Campbell and Nathan Hardin contributed.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.