In 2013, Neil Adleberg reconnected with the young man at a wrestling tournament called Beast of the East at the University of Delaware — and “realized what he had in front of him was a target,” prosecutors allege.
At the time, Adleberg was 65 and the young man was 17, a senior and member of the Perry Hall High School wrestling team.
Adleberg was a “prominent member of the wrestling community,” prosecutors reported, and talked to him about his future.
Following the meeting, Adleberg positioned himself as a caregiver, prosecutors claim, adding the young man to a cellphone plan, creating a joint bank account and changing the address on his driver’s license. Through the promise of a better future and the “inextricable hold” that he possessed, Adleberg kept the teen silent and repeatedly sexually abused him for several years, prosecutors allege.
“From the evidence presented to you through the course of this trial, you will see the defendant’s behavior for what it really was: not that of a caring, supportive mentor or father figure,” Maryland Assistant Attorney General Megan Greene said in her opening statement, “but of a jealous, obsessive abuser.”
Adleberg, now 75, of Reisterstown, was the head wrestling coach of Mount Saint Joseph High School in the 1970s and returned as an assistant coach for the 2014-15 season. He is standing trial this week in Baltimore County Circuit Court on six counts, including sexual abuse of a minor, and is the only person who has been indicted as a result of the Maryland Office of the Attorney General’s grand jury investigation into sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Prosecutors began presenting their case on Wednesday, calling five witnesses including the young man’s brother, friend and ex-girlfriend.
The Baltimore Banner does not identify people who report that they are survivors of sexual abuse unless they give permission. The young man is now 27.
Circuit Judge Dennis M. Robinson Jr. will determine whether Adleberg is guilty of the charges at the end of the bench trial.
Joe Murtha, Adleberg’s attorney, refuted the allegations and stated that his client is not guilty of the charges.
“It’s the facts of this case that ultimately will show the court that Mr. Adleberg was a mentor, was a coach, was a surrogate parent,” Murtha said in his opening statement.
Murtha said his client will testify in his own defense. That’s in addition to calling witnesses to speak about his character and reputation.
Though Murtha said his client can be a micromanager, the young man went from being hopeless and having no future to thriving in school and wrestling.
Adleberg has opened doors for many people. But he’s never faced an allegation of sexual abuse in the past, Murtha said.
Throughout the years, Murtha said, he’s found that one of the challenges in these kinds of cases is that people will ask, “Why would he lie?”
“I may not know, may never be able to tell the court why he did lie,” Murtha said. “But I can tell you: there will be lie after lie documented in the course of this trial, your honor.”
First, the young man’s brother testified at length about their troubled home life in Baltimore County.
Adleberg, he said, drove his sibling to wrestling practices and tournaments and would text to complain and seek information about him. For instance, Adleberg derisively referred to the young man’s girlfriends as “succubus” and “drinker bell.”
The brother testified that Adleberg once showed him a picture of a naked woman on Snapchat during a trip in 2014 to Pennsylvania.
In 2021, the young man tried to kill himself, his brother testified, and went to Sheppard Pratt, a private, nonprofit mental health treatment center. That’s when the family cut off communication with Adleberg.
Next, John Sheridan, a criminal investigator for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, testified that he interviewed the young man and his family members. That’s along with those in his “sphere of friends.”
“He was, I think, naturally quite nervous and reluctant to get into details,” Sheridan testified. “He did affirm the allegations.”
Law enforcement obtained a search and seizure warrant for Adleberg’s home and took numerous electronic devices including a desktop computer and cellphone. Investigators recovered more than 2,500 pages of text messages between him and the young man, Sheridan said.
A friend of the young man testified that he introduced him to Adleberg.
On cross-examination, the friend said though Aldeberg took part in “locker room talk,” he never acted inappropriately toward athletes.
Anne Waller, clinical supervisor of the forensic interview program at the Center for Hope, testified as an expert in the dynamics of sexual abuse and grooming behaviors.
Later, the young man’s ex-girlfriend testified that she believed that Adleberg was an old coach and helping her partner get through college. But she noted how often the two of them talked.
“I started to have my suspicions,” she testified over Zoom. “Just felt like it was more than an old coach.”
The trial is scheduled to resume on Thursday in the Baltimore County Courts Building.