Judge reduces Wager's bond

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 28, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Despite additional sex abuse allegations against former Catawba College coach Ralph Wager, a judge reduced Wager’s secured bond to $400,000 Monday in Rowan County Superior Court.
Judge W. David Lee of Union County reduced the bond from $1 million. Lee said the 69-year-old would have to wear an electronic monitor and could not go more than 50 yards from his Steele Creek residence in Charlotte.
But the hearing also brought graphic new allegations against the coach.
Investigators said they have two more allegations against Wager, said to have happened while he was a soccer coach at Catawba College, and that the coach was forced out after an incident with a college employee’s son.
Assistant District Attorney Seth Banks advocated for the bond to remain at $1 million Monday afternoon, citing a jailhouse phone call in which Wager told a family member he wanted to go back to New York. He also cited an interview at the Sheriff’s Office and the new allegations.
One person who was on campus in the 1980s for a soccer camp told investigators Wager would come into his dorm room while he was asleep, Banks said.
The boy told investigators Wager would “give him massages at 2 in the morning,” Banks said.
The boy “would describe them as inappropriate,” he said.
A third alleged incident happened with an employee’s son, Banks said.
During the summer of 1990, investigators said Wager had the boy stay at his on-campus residence.
The boy later fled from the home in the middle of the night after he said Wager attempted to pull his pants down and “said he wanted to teach him things about his body,” Banks said.
Prosecutors said this was the reason for Wager’s termination and that it was not health-related as was argued by Wager’s attorney, Darrin Jordan.
Wager was expected to be in court Monday for an arraignment on six felony sex offense charges.
He waived his right to the arraignment, a formal reading of his charges, but appeared in court for the bond hearing about 2 p.m.
It was the second time in two months that a bond hearing revealed new allegations against the soccer coach.
In July, Jordan hoped to reduce the bond from $500,000, but Judge Kevin Eddinger of Rowan County doubled it instead.
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If Wager was nervous Monday, he didn’t show it.
Wearing shackles and handcuffs, Wager walked slowly across the courtroom and sat in the defendant’s chair.
Shortly after entering, he waved at his two brothers who sat in the front row. They were among about 20 people who came to support the 69-year-old.
Wager didn’t speak to the court during the hearing, but he mouthed a silent “Thank you,” to his brothers.
Jordan, his attorney, painted a different picture of Wager for the court members, beginning with the New York State native’s excellent athletics record.
Wager was a teacher at a Webster, N.Y., high school, Jordan said. He later was hired at Catawba College, but left in 1990 due to health problems, the attorney said.
Jordan said Wager was known for his ability to “heal” athletes, and massages were a part of that process.
Wager met the initial accuser at a pool on the campus, Jordan said, and that the boy’s mother had asked Wager to “heal” a physical ailment of the child.
Wager began acting as a father-like figure for the boy, Jordan said, because the child was from a single-parent home.
But in the summer of 1987, Jordan said, several families asked Wager not to come back to the pool facility.
Prosecutors said they have evidence that several incidents involving Wager were reported to campus officials during Wager’s employment.
Catawba College President Brien Lewis said in a statement Monday night that the college is continuing to investigate. Catawba is using the investigation as “an opportunity to review current college policies and procedures..,” he said.
“I want to reassure you that the college continues to cooperate fully with the criminal investigation,” Lewis wrote in the e-mail. “Our independent internal investigation of the college is also underway, as authorized by our Board of Trustees last month.”
Assistant District Attorney Banks said Wager didn’t communicate with the boy or his mother until after she died of breast cancer in the late ’80s.
Banks said Wager then went to the child’s home and met the boy’s father.
Prosecutors said the child was molested by Wager at his father’s home.
Banks claimed Wager also admitted to the incident in an interview with Rowan County investigators after his arrest.
“I did that and that was probably the wrong thing to do, in hindsight,” Banks quoted Wager as saying in the interview.
After the 1990 on-campus allegation, Banks said Wager was asked to leave the college.
Wager moved to Mecklenburg County and has since started a soccer program in the Steele Creek community.
He was suspended indefinitely from coaching after his arrest in July.
Wager remained in jail Monday evening.