Wednesday, March 7, 2007

HMB martial arts champ convicted of molestation

By Michelle Durand
A Brazilian martial arts champion and instructor accused of giving inappropriate massages to four boys, including three students, is facing two years in prison and life-long registration as a sex offender after pleading no contest to one felony and three misdemeanors counts of child molestation.

Joao Pierini, 35, changed his plea at a pre-trial conference rather than stand trial on the original nine charges including contributing to the delinquency of a minor, annoying a child under 18, sexual battery and lewd and lascivious behavior. If convicted of those charges, he faced up to five years in prison. Instead, he is looking at no more than two years in prison when sentenced April 14.

The plea bargain is satisfactory because he copped to the felony and must register as a sex offender, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Pierini’s plea nearly ends a case that has flown through the local court system since his December arrest. Pierini previously waived a preliminary hearing and was set for trial March 19 until he changed his plea.

On Dec. 15, four boys ages 15 to 17 allegedly ran into Pierini at a local Starbucks coffee shop and he invited them back to his studio, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at 2830 N. Cabrillo Highway in Half Moon Bay, where he also lives.

Pierini reportedly gave the boys his keys, told them to put their beer in the refrigerator and said he’d meet them there.

As they drank beer, Pierini offered the boys massages. The first victim later reported Pierini massaged his genital area until he got up and rejoined his friends without sharing what had happened. The next day, he asked the other boys if they had a similar experience and they agreed. The boys told the first victim’s father and they reported the situation to the Half Moon Bay police.

Pierini is a 25-year jiu jitsu veteran with a third-degree black belt, according to the biography posted on his workplace Web site.

The Web site also advertises therapeutic massage for trainers.

Pierini moved to the United States from Sao Paolo, Brazil in 1999 and opened the Half Moon Bay school with Jim Irizarry. The two also created the Joao Pierini Association and a competition known as the California Open International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Submission Grappling Championships.

According to the Ultimate Fighting Championship Web site, in 2002 Pierini fought under the moniker “The Tasmanian Devil.”

He remains in custody in lieu of $500,00 bail and has no prior convictions in San Mateo County.


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