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Molest charges for martial arts champ, teacher
January 13, 2007, 12:00 AM By Michelle Durand

A Brazilian martial arts champion who runs a Half Moon Bay jiu jitsu studio drank beer with four boys, including three students, and gave them inappropriate massages, according to prosecutors.

Joao Pierini, 35, is accused of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, annoying a child under 18, sexual battery and lewd and lascivious behavior, said Half Moon Bay Police Chief Ike Ortiz.

Pierini was charged Jan. 8 with one felony and eight misdemeanors, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

He pleaded not guilty and asked for a court-appointed attorney. He returns Jan. 19 for a preliminary hearing and remains in custody in lieu of $500,00 bail.

If convicted, he faces about three years in prison, he said.

The investigation is ongoing but police believe they have identified all the victims, Ortiz said.

On Dec. 15, four boys ages 15 to 17 ran into Pierini at a local Starbucks coffee shop, Wagstaffe said.

Three are students and the fourth a friend.

Pierini noticed they had beer and invited them to his studio, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at 2830 North Cabrillo Highway in Half Moon Bay, where he also lives, Wagstaffe said.

Pierini reportedly gave the boys his keys, told them to put the 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.

On Jan. 3, Half Moon Bay served a search warrant for Pierini’s workplace and car.

 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.”

Pierini has no prior convictions in San Mateo County, Wagstaffe said.

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor:

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