Duluth News Tribune: Confronted by accuser, former Duluth scoutmaster stands trial for alleged sex crimes

A 34-year-old man testified Tuesday that when he was a Boy Scout in Duluth two decades ago a scoutmaster sexually assaulted him at least 20 times and when he confronted his assailant in 2009 the man offered to pay $300,000 to keep the matter secret and out of court.

The alleged assailant, Edwin C. Culbert, a 77-year-old former Air National Guard navigator with no criminal history, is standing trial in State District Court in Duluth, charged with five sex crimes — three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of attempted first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The acts are alleged to have occurred between 1990 and 1994. The man who said he was victimized said the first time he met Culbert the defendant took him out on a country road and let him drive his Thunderbird automobile without incident. He said the abuse started when he was 12 years old and working for Culbert mowing his lawn, painting and doing other jobs at the man’s Lakeside home. Sometimes he would stay overnight.

The first time he said he was abused at Culbert’s home he said he woke up to find his shorts pulled down to his knees. Culbert was wearing a robe and nothing else. He said the defendant was fondling his genitals and attempting to sodomize him.

He said the abuse took place in various rooms in Culbert’s home, Culbert’s parents’ home in the Twin Cities, the defendant’s sister’s house in Kentucky and on a road trip the two took together to Detroit when he turned 15.

St. Louis County prosecutor Gary Bjorklund asked the man why he didn’t tell anyone what he was going through. He said he was ashamed, embarrassed. He didn’t think anyone would believe him, and he didn’t want anyone to know.

“If you look at his record, the man is almost unblemished,” he said of Culbert. “I was a 12-year-old boy. I couldn’t come up with the words, ‘He touched my (private area).’ ”

He said that after Culbert forced himself on him he would tell him to keep it between themselves and that they were “soul mates.” He said he didn’t know what that term meant.

The man said he was a small-statured 4-foot-9 when the abuse started. Sometimes he said he played dead. “There was a point in my mind where I just gave up,” he said.

He said he tried telling his parents, but they were friends of Culbert. He remembered standing with them while Culbert had his arm around him. “I don’t feel there is any word to describe the anguish you feel at that time — too much torment,” he testified.

The alleged victim said he told a lifelong friend of the abuse and he told his wife the day after they got married.

He said the alleged abuse led him to one-time drug abuse and intimacy problems and continues to affect his life. He contemplated suicide. He’s especially troubled by how his experience has affected his relationship with his two young daughters. He says he couldn’t change their diapers or now give them a bath without feeling like he is doing something inappropriate. He fears his experience has affected his ability to bond with his daughters.

The man said he decided to confront Culbert when he learned that the defendant still was working with youth in the Civil Air Patrol.

“I could not let this happen to anybody else,” he testified. “I want people to know who he is and what he did to me and not be able to hide behind kids and the supposed good things he did in his life.”

The alleged victim telephoned Culbert and arranged a meeting in a Duluth restaurant on Oct. 28, 2009. He had prepared a document citing the assaults he said the defendant committed on him and threatening a civil claim for sexual abuse. He incorrectly thought the statute of limitations had expired on the alleged sex crimes. He said Culbert asked him if he could give him money and offered $20,000 to $30,000.

The man said he told the defendant that he wanted $300,000. He testified that Culbert said OK. The alleged victim drew up an out-of-court settlement agreement and met Culbert at a bank in St. Cloud on Oct. 29, 2009. The contract said that Culbert would pay the alleged victim $100,000 on Nov. 25, 2009; $100,000 on Jan. 1, 2010; and $100,000 on Jan. 1, 2011. The defendant also was required to take out a $200,000 life-insurance policy with the alleged victim as the beneficiary. The victim said that Culbert also requested a non-disclosure agreement so that his name not be associated with the sexual-assault claims.

They agreed to the deal outside the bank, went inside and had a notary sign and stamp the agreement. The witness testified that all he was seeking to do was get evidence that Culbert admitted he had sexually assaulted him. The written agreement was entered into evidence Tuesday. The man reported the alleged abuse to Duluth police on Feb. 10, 2010. Charges were filed July 13, 2010.

Culbert didn’t express any visible emotion during his accuser’s testimony. He seemed to be watching jurors for their reactions.

Rodney Brodin, Culbert’s defense attorney, told jurors in his opening statement that the case started as being all about money. He said the alleged victim was attempting to blackmail the defendant by bringing false claims. Brodin said his client has received appreciation awards for his dealings with youth in the Civil Air Patrol and suggested that as a former military officer Culbert is a respected member of the community.

Testimony continues today with Judge Heather Sweetland presiding.