Berks

AG: Youth tennis instructor arranged sex with 14-year-old

Lehigh County man coached at Berks tennis club

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A Berks County youth tennis instructor tried to arrange a sexual encounter with a person he thought was a 14-year-old girl he met online, according to the Pennsylvania attorney general's office.

Authorities arrested Mark F. O'Neill of Salisbury Township, Lehigh County, over the weekend in an undercover sex sting.

Authorities charged the 36-year-old with unlawful contact with a minor, statutory sexual assault, criminal use of a communication device and two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16, all felonies.

He was arraigned Saturday night and sent to Northampton County Prison after failing to post $500,000 bail.

A statement from the attorney general's office indicates O'Neill is a junior racquetball and tennis coach at the Hillcrest Racquet Club in Exeter Township. Authorities said he coached female teen players.

"This case is disturbing because the defendant regularly coaches young women the same age as the one he attempted to inappropriately proposition," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a prepared statement.

An investigator with the attorney general's child predator unit was monitoring an undercover online profile, when he began communicating with a man who indicated that he was "29 almost 30," according to court records.

The investigator, posing as a teenage girl, allegedly indicated several times during an online conversation that the man later identified as O'Neill was talking to a 14-year-old, according to records. O'Neill allegedly asked the girl initially to meet and "just make out and maybe touch a little," according to records.

Authorities allege he asked the girl to send him a picture and even acknowledged that it would be illegal for him to have sex with her because she was underage.Investigators said O'Neill asked the girl Saturday afternoon if she wanted to meet later for sex. Authorities watched as O'Neill arrived at the pre-arranged location. He was arrested about 5 p.m. in the 400 block of Dakotah Street in Bethlehem.

During an interview with the investigator, O'Neill said he had been using Craigslist for about three years to meet women for sex and allegedly admitted to communicating with a 14-year-old for three months about having sex. Court records indicate he acknowledged that he sent the girl sexual text message and had agreed to meet her that day.

Hillcrest Racquet Club released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying that O'Neill is no longer affiliated with the club and that it learned of the allegations against him in a call from the attorney general's office this past weekend.

"All of our coaching staff, including Mr. O'Neill, have gone through extensive state police background checks including criminal history, child abuse, and finger prints," said Marc Jacobs, the club's general manager. "After learning of the allegations, he was immediately relieved of all of his duties and we began an internal investigation. We have not uncovered any allegations or claims concerning our athletes or their families. We will continue our investigation, and are in the process of notifying all athletes and their families.

"Our clinics and lessons are conducted on our courts in full view of staff, visitors, parents and other players on adjacent courts. We have never received any complaints of inappropriate behavior concerning Mark O'Neill during his entire tenure at our facility. We are completely shocked by the allegations and will continue to cooperate with the attorney general's office in any way we can."

O'Neill's next court date is a preliminary hearing tentatively scheduled for April 6.


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