Neil Adleberg viewed the wrestler as a project, he testified.
In 2013, Adleberg recalled at his sexual abuse trial, he reconnected with the young man at a wrestling tournament called “Beast of the East” at the University of Delaware. He was a senior and a member of the wrestling team at Perry Hall High School. They had met once before.
Adleberg said he believed that “wrestling does a world of good for people.” But only 1% of those who participate in the sport in high school, he said, go on to compete at the Division I level. The teen had been interested in several colleges — Kutztown University, American University, the U.S. Naval Academy — but either did not have the requisite SAT score or was too late in the process to gain admission.
So, Adleberg said, he came up with three goals for the young man. No. 1: Improve his wrestling. No. 2: Find a college. And No. 3: Prepare him to compete at the collegiate level.
“I saw a need and I took on the project,” Adleberg testified on Tuesday in the Baltimore County Courts Building. “I wanted to make it work for his future.”
“It was a platonic kind of love that I was expressing to him,” he later added.
But the Maryland Office of the Attorney General alleges that Adleberg instead groomed and repeatedly sexually assaulted the young man, starting when he was 17.
Adleberg, 75, of Reisterstown, who was the head wrestling coach of Mount Saint Joseph High School in the 1970s, testified in his own defense as he continues to stand trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court on charges including sexual abuse of a minor. He is the only person who has been indicted as a result of a grand jury investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
For more than five and a half hours, Adleberg recounted everything from his upbringing in Baltimore County to his involvement in the wrestling community, which he said earned him the nickname, “The Godfather of Maryland Wrestling.” He repeatedly denied that he sexually abused the young man.
Circuit Judge Dennis M. Robinson Jr. is presiding over the trial and will decide whether Adleberg is guilty of the charges. Testimony in the case is set to resume on Wednesday.
Adleberg was born in Baltimore and grew up in Pikesville, he testified. He said he became interested in wrestling at age 8 from his uncle, who served in the U.S. Air Force and died after being hit by a log that he’d been pulling uphill with a tractor.
In 1970, Adleberg said, he graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park. He earned his master’s degree in education in 1972 from what’s now called Towson University.
During his tenure as head wrestling coach of Mount Saint Joseph High School, Adleberg testified, the team won three National Prep championships and earned victories at 46 dual meets. He said he then became a stockbroker at Legg Mason and, eventually, opened his own investment advisory firm called Adleberg Asset Advisors LLC.
Meanwhile, Adleberg testified, he continued to remain involved in wrestling. That included starting a preeminent tournament in 2003 called Mount Mat Madness. “People would come to me for assistance and help,” he testified.
Besides helping the young man with wrestling, Adleberg said, he taught him financial literacy and responsibility.
The Baltimore Banner does not identify people who report that they are survivors of sexual abuse without their permission. The young man is now 27.
Adleberg disputed that actions he took, including opening a joint bank account with the young man and adding him to a cellphone plan, were nefarious. Throughout his testimony, Adleberg denied the sexual abuse allegations, stating at one point, “It didn’t happen.”
“You heard the allegations of a violent sexual assault,” said Joe Murtha, Adleberg’s attorney. “What do you have to say about that?”
“There was no such violent sexual assault,” Adleberg said.
Murtha presented his client with numerous text messages, emails and social media posts in which the young man expressed gratitude and appreciation. “My life would be trash if you never came into it,” one text read. “You saved my life and I’ll forever be happy because of you.”
Later, Jack Trybus testified for the defense that Adleberg helped his twin sons transfer to Mount Saint Joseph High School and realize their dreams of going to the Naval Academy.
“He’s one of the most honest, genuine, sincere men I’ve ever been around,” Trybus said.
On cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Nancy Frigo noted that Adleberg provided the young man with financial and emotional support.
Frigo went through the list of items that Adleberg bought him: Clothing. Supplements. Fragrances. College textbooks. A MacBook. That’s in addition to spending thousands of dollars to take him on trips to events, including the NCAA Wrestling Championship.
“Anything else you were buying him that that we haven’t covered?” Frigo asked at one point.
Later, Frigo went through numerous text messages and emails that showed that Adleberg was checking the young man’s credit score, monitoring the number and length of calls to his girlfriends and talking to other people about him — even years after he graduated from college.
“Mr. Adleberg,” Frigo asked, “do you have a sexual interest in young men?”
“No,” Adleberg replied.