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An ex-Olympian pleads guilty to sexually assaulting boys – but the total number of victims ‘remains unknown,’ DA says

Stephanie Zollshan/The Berkshire Eagle/AP

Editor’s note: This story includes graphic descriptions of sexual assault allegations.

As boys, they trusted him as a revered coach and mentor. As men, they say he’s a “monster” who used his Olympic fame to manipulate young athletes and sexually assault them.

Now, more than four decades after Conrad Mainwaring trained young athletes at a Massachusetts sports camp, the 72-year-old pleaded guilty this week to 14 counts of indecent assault and battery involving nine male victims.

In addition to the criminal cases in Massachusetts, at least seven men have accused Mainwaring of sexual assault in civil lawsuits in New York state, an attorney representing them told CNN.

And there could be more victims who have yet to come forward.

“The total number of Conrad Mainwaring victims remains unknown,” said Timothy Shugrue, the district attorney in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

‘You offered to make my childhood dream come true’

Mainwaring represented the Caribbean country of Antigua (now known as Antigua and Barbuda) at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, where he ran hurdles in track and field.

Immediately after the Olympics, Mainwaring moved to Massachusetts to work at Camp Greylock – a boys’ sports camp in Berkshire County – from 1976 to 1979, the district attorney said.

“While working at the camp, the Defendant is confirmed to have sexually abused nine children,” Shugrue said in a written statement.

CNN has reached out to Camp Greylock for comment.

For decades, the victims’ abuse was a closely guarded secret. Some accusers told CNN they had felt too uncomfortable or even ashamed to speak out.

“He chose straight young men because he knew – because he was pretty smart – he knew that we probably wouldn’t talk about it because we were too ashamed to talk about it,” said Michael Waxman, one of the nine victims whose case Mainwaring pleaded guilty to Thursday.

“I hope, and I think, things have changed since then … but he chose the right group because it kept us quiet.”

Waxman was a 13-year-old aspiring track star when he was assaulted by Mainwaring. He says he had no idea how rampant Mainwaring’s abuse was until about four decades later, when a 13-month investigation by ESPN helped spur victims to come forward.

“Two weeks after the story broke, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office began to investigate the allegations” against Mainwaring, the prosecutor’s office said.

Several of the victims, now middle-aged men, confronted Mainwaring in court Thursday and detailed the trauma that has plagued them for decades.

“You told me I had the raw athletic ability, and you had the skill to build my mental strength to make me a world class athlete,” Waxman told Mainwaring, who was in a wheelchair dressed in orange prison garb.

“You offered to make my childhood dream come true. I was overjoyed that you chose me, and I would have followed you to the ends of the earth to make this dream come true. But what you did to me had nothing to do with my dream; it was all about satisfying your perverted sexual needs.”

Many of the kids had been starstruck by the famous camp counselor – and the Olympian used that to his advantage, Waxman told CNN on Friday.

“He formed what he called the ‘squad’” – which Mainwaring touted as the best athletes at camp – “and he would work out with them like one hour before anybody else was awake,” Waxman said. “Everyone wanted to be on the squad.”

One day, when 13-year-old Waxman and Mainwaring were traveling in the back of a camp van, the counselor “started to stroke my arm, and I yanked it away,” Waxman recalled.

“And he kept doing that, and I kept yanking it away. And finally, I just left it there, thinking he’s a respected counselor. He’s an Olympian. He must know what he’s doing.”

Later that day, Mainwaring congratulated the teen for passing his first test of mental fortitude and invited him to join the “squad,” Waxman said.

From that point on, “I basically did anything he asked me to do because I thought it was just part of some well-designed plan to nurture my mental strength so I could be a world-class athlete,” Waxman told CNN.

“He would say, ‘I’m going to ask you to do things that are uncomfortable, that are socially frowned upon, and you’re going to show me you can do those things. And that’s going to prove that you have the mental strength that you need,’” he said. “A lot of us fell for it.”

Among those tasks: “He masturbated me. I masturbated him on one occasion,” Waxman said. “He kissed me – open-mouthed kisses.”

Mainwaring’s defense attorney has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

Waxman said Mainwaring was such an “expert manipulator” that he didn’t realize he had been sexually assaulted until years later, when he was in college. Then he felt a wave of shame and self-loathing, the victim told his abuser in court Thursday.

“Over time, as I realized what you had done, I began to experience many self-damaging thoughts: ‘What was wrong with me? Why did you choose me in the first place? Why didn’t I stop you? I must be defective in some way or ways,’” Waxman told Mainwaring.

“Those negative thoughts took up space in my head for decades.”

Mainwaring pleaded guilty to 14 counts – or instances – of sexual assault involving nine male victims who were between 13 and 19 years old at the time. As part of a plea deal, he was sentenced to 10 to 11 years in prison, a spokesperson for the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office said.

But more allegations of rampant abuse by Mainwaring have emerged.

From a ‘mentor’ to a ‘monster’

After Mainwaring left Camp Greylock in 1979, he moved to upstate New York to study guidance and counseling at Syracuse University, according to a civil court filing. He was also employed as a resident adviser.

In 1980, Mainwaring also started working with “high school student athletes at the nearby Nottingham High School,” another court filing says.

That’s when he met Joe Kriesberg, a senior on the swim team at Nottingham High.

“I learned that he was at Nottingham to help student athletes excel. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a student athlete. I want to excel,’” Kriesberg told CNN.

To this day, Kriesberg said he’s not exactly sure what Mainwaring’s official role was at the school.

In a statement to CNN, the Syracuse City School District said it “has no records that Conrad Mainwaring was ever a staff member or a sanctioned volunteer at Nottingham or in the Syracuse City School District.”

But the Olympian quickly earned the teenager’s trust and friendship, and the pair would speak regularly – often in a guidance counselor’s office, Kriesberg said.

“We would talk about school and sports and whatever teenage boys want to talk about,” Kriesberg told CNN. “He was part counselor, part mentor, part coach, part friend, big brother, therapist.”

But later, Kriesberg said, he realized Mainwaring was actually a manipulative “monster.”

“I was being groomed – sort of set up for the kill, so to speak.”

In the summer of 1981, when Kriesberg was 17, he visited Mainwaring at his Syracuse University campus home.

“Mainwaring asked Joseph if he wanted to be hypnotized. Joseph agreed to be hypnotized in response to Mainwaring’s pressure and coercion,” according to a lawsuit filed by Kriesberg’s attorneys against the university.

Mainwaring then started massaging Kriesberg – acting as though he was hypnotizing the teen – before he started to “unzip and remove Joseph’s pants and masturbate Joseph,” the complaint says.

“Mainwaring used intimidation, fear, fraud, force and his position of power and authority over Joseph,” the lawsuit says. “Mainwaring told Joseph that this procedure was necessary so he could properly understand Joseph’s sex drive and provide proper counseling. Joseph did not consent to Mainwaring’s sexual assault.”

The lawsuit names Syracuse University as a defendant, saying it “did not conduct a background check, did not contact Mainwaring’s prior employment, including his employment with Camp Greylock, and did not collect references from Mainwaring” prior to allowing him to live on campus and hiring him as a resident adviser.

A Syracuse University spokesperson declined to comment on Mainwaring and the sexual assault allegations against him, citing “still active litigation.”

Kriesberg said he could not pursue criminal action against Mainwaring for the alleged 1981 incident at Syracuse because the statute of limitations in New York state has passed. That’s why he’s pursuing civil action.

At least six other men have also accused Mainwaring of sexual assault in civil lawsuits filed in New York state, said Kat Thomas, an attorney representing those plaintiffs.

But Mainwaring is not listed as a defendant in many of those cases. “There were these criminal cases going on (in Massachusetts), and we were aware that criminal cases were being brought that could have very much stalled the civil case,” Thomas said.

Similarly, “we wouldn’t have wanted to … interfere with the district attorney’s job or do anything that would affect that criminal case,” she said.

Also, Mainwaring doesn’t have the means “to compensate these plaintiffs for their harms,” Thomas said.

Instead, she said, her clients want accountability from Mainwaring’s “enablers.”

Kriesberg said he wants an apology from Syracuse University. Also, “it would be nice to know how he ended up in Nottingham (High School),” he said. “And I want them to take action, to make sure this can’t happen again.”

Thomas said she hopes the civil lawsuits draw attention to “institutions that have these great sports programs that … turned a blind eye to a known harm.”

‘Sexual abuse in youth sports is an epidemic’

The allegations made by former young athletes in multiple states evoke painful memories of Larry Nassar’s decades-long sexual abuse of gymnasts when he was a team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

Thomas’ co-counsel in some of the New York civil cases include attorneys from Manly, Stewart & Finaldi – the same law firm that represented many of Nassar’s victims.

“Sexual abuse in youth sports is an epidemic,” the firm said in a statement to CNN.

“Predatory coaches, team doctors and others abuse their position of authority to molest trusting and vulnerable young athletes. The abuse is completed when the school, teams, and sports organizations that employ these bad actors ignore the abuse or actively cover it up. … Our goal is to change the culture of these organizations and force them to place athletes and students’ safety over money, medals and institutional reputation.”

Both Waxman and Kriesberg said they wished they had spoken out against Mainwaring earlier – despite the difficult circumstances.

“I don’t blame myself or anybody for not saying anything,” Kriesberg said. “But had more people said something, obviously, he might have gotten caught sooner.”

But by telling their stories now, Waxman and Kriesberg said they hope young people in similar situations feel empowered to seek justice. By doing so, they could help far more people than they know.

“I had no idea of the scope. I had no idea how many other kids (Mainwaring) had done this to,” Waxman said.

“All these guys who came after me, I might have been able to prevent them from being harmed. And I wish I had.”

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