This is the first edition of Crime Desk a new weekly feature for Bloody Elbow where I will cover the week’s stories that involve the intersections between combat sports and crime. The majority of these stories don’t make for nice reading, but we feel it’s important to share these stories with you, our readers.
For this week’s report I spoke with Michelle Simpson Tuegel, who represents two women who are suing ADCC world champion Roberto Cyborg Abreu over alleged rapes that happened around his Fight Sports gym system. Simpson Tuegel, who once represented the abuse survivors of disgraced US Gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser, filled me in on some updates regarding one case and the current fight to establish jurisdiction in Texas.
Check them out below.
Civil Lawsuit vs. Cyborg Abreu and Fight Sports
In 2021 BJJ world champion Roberto Abreu, and his Fight Sports LLC, company were sued by two women who accused him of failing to protect them from sexual assault within his network of academies.
One of the lawsuits was filed by a former student of Abreu’s who attended a Fight Sports gym in Naples, FL. She claimed that she was repeatedly sexually abused by BJJ black-belt Marcel Goncalves, an instructor at the school, while she was a minor.
Goncalves was arrested in 2018 and charged with rape in connection to these claims. When questioned by police Goncalves reportedly admitted to having sexual intercourse with the complainant and stated he “does not know what is wrong with him.”
It is believed he has since returned to his native Brazil. There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest due to missing court dates in connection to this case.
A second woman sued Abreu, Fight Sports and Rockstar Martial Arts (a gym in Texas that is associated with Fight Sports) over a sexual assault she claims happened when she was a minor. That woman has accused Rodrigo Oliveira, another Abreu black-belt and former Rockstar instructor, of assaulting her the day before a BJJ competition in Texas. Oliveira is also believed to have returned to Brazil.
After Goncalves’ arrest in Florida, Abreu put out the following statement on social media:
“Sexual assault can never be tolerated. This week we learned of horrifying news about an individual who used to represent Fight Sports at one of our affiliate gyms. The actions of this individual do not reflect what I stand for and he will be held responsible for his actions. My heart breaks for the victim and her family. They know they have my full support. I ask that everyone give the victim and her family space and privacy, as they are going through something no one should ever have to experience.”
Michelle Simpson Tuegel represents both women and their separate lawsuits against Abreu and Fight Sports. She spoke to me about the case involving Oliveira and the current dispute with Abreu over whether the lawsuit can be litigated in Texas, specifically the Circuit Court in Harris County.
Simpson Tuegel explained that she is arguing that the court has jurisdiction for this case because, in addition to the alleged sex assault happening in Harris County, she believes Abreu and Fight Sports have had the requisite amount of business dealings in Texas to justify this jurisdiction.
Simpson Tuegel expressed that her client competing as a Fight Sports athlete in Texas, alongside her alleged attacker (who was also representing Fight Sports) is enough of an affiliation for the case can be litigated in Texas.
Abreu’s lawyers are contesting this.
Abreu’s business dealings in the state, according to Simpson Tuegel, are further evidence that Texas can litigate the case.
“[Abreu] has admitted that they made money in Texas. But they claim that it is not enough and we argue that it is enough,” said Simpson Tuegel, who said past cases have shown that only minor dealings in the state can constitute jurisdiction in Texas.
“We’ve cited examples, the other side has done the same. It’s up to the discretion of the court. Precedence has shown that it doesn’t have to be a lot [of business done in Texas to establish jurisdiction]. Because when you are travelling to Texas, making money in Texas, and sending employees and contractors to work in Texas, you have to accept that it is reasonable to expect you are subject to Texas courts.”
Simpson Tuegel also talked about her assertion that Abreu and his Fight Sports organization bear responsibility for the attack her client said she suffered.
In both cases, Simpson Tuegel argues that Abreu is responsible for bringing coaches over to the US from Brazil, who would later be accused of sexually assaulting minors. Evidence she has offered in court for this includes communications between the alleged victim’s father and Abreu where Abreu said he would “break” the visa that was allowing Oliveira to work in the US.
Bloody Elbow has viewed court filings that include a screenshot of this text message.
The lawsuit in Texas also claims that some adults working at Rockstar knew about the claims against Oliveira and failed to report them to law enforcement.
Both Florida and Texas, where these attacks are alleged to have taken place, have mandatory reporting laws where any adult is legally responsible to report suspected cases of abuse of a person under 18 to appropriate authorities.
“There’s a failure,” stated Simpson Tuegel, when discussing how her client was allegedly not protected before or after the alleged assault.
“We believe it comes from the top, this athlete and this coach were fighting under the Fight Sports banner. He was brought into the country by Cyborg, Cyborg had involvement in bringing him here and when they are fighting under that banner and Fight Sports is benefiting from these athletes fighting under this banner, when something happens like this, they have a responsibility to report. There has to a policy to protect kids in sport and we believe this client has not been protected. And this local gym (Rockstar) bears some responsibility, as does the accused, and Cyborg.”
In addition to denying he and his company bears responsibility for the alleged sexual assaults involving two of his black-belts in both Texas and Florida, Abreu has also denied he had any direct involvement with Rockstar Martial Arts and that he has never sponsored events or competitions in Texas. He asserts that his only business dealings in Texas are that he has won prize money at events in the state and that he does not have any affiliate gyms in Texas.
Getting a court in Texas to agree to litigate this case is the first obstacle for this lawsuit. If a court agrees to hear the case, then the case can progress to discovery.
A civil lawsuit, at this stage, appears to be the only method Simpson Tuegel’s clients can pursue justice for what they claimed happened to them. It is unlikely a criminal case will reach a resolution given the status of both Rodrigo Oliveira and Marcel Goncalves.
The criminal case against Goncalves, which includes three counts of sex with a minor, is currently listed as “pending” with the Collier County Sheriff’s Department in Florida.
Oliveira was charged with trafficking a child to engage in sexual conduct by the Frisco Police Department in Texas (per the Fort-Worth Star Telegram).
“It’s my understanding that both [Oliveira and Goncalves] have returned to Brazil,” said Simpson Tuegel.
Felix Verdejo receives life sentence for murder of Keishla Rodriguez and unborn child
Last week boxer Felix Verdejo received a life sentence from a US Federal Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the killing of Keishla Rodriguez and her unborn child. Verdejo had been having an extra-marital affair with Rodriguez at the time of the killing.
Verdejo, a former Olympian and WBO Latino lightweight champion, was convicted of kidnapping and murder in July. During trial his friend and co-defendant Luis Antonio Cadiz said that Verdejo had pressured Rodriguez to get an abortion before deciding to kill her.
Cadiz testified that he and Verdejo ambushed Rodriguez in a vehicle and that Rodriguez injected her with fentanyl-based sedative before tying her limbs to a cement block. Rodriguez was then thrown from the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge into the San Jose Lagoon in broad daylight. Cadiz said that Verdejo later entered the lagoon and shot at Rodriguez’s body.
Verdejo is set to appeal his conviction.
In a press release W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, said that Verdejo was “unrepentant”.
“Like Verdejo-Sánchez now knows, anyone who commits cold-blooded crimes of violence in violation of federal law will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law by the Justice Department and this office.”
John Jackson files appeal in child rape, porn conviction
Former Olympian, and opponent of Jermell Charlo, John Jackson has filed an appeal against his conviction for rape and child pornography production.
The 34-year-old Jackson was arrested in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands in 2019 under suspicion of raping a 15-year-old girl and capturing the incident on a cellphone.
He was convicted in 2022 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He is currently incarcerated at a low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, Fl.
Jackson’s appeal contends that the government committed errors in executing search warrants. The appeal also contests the prosecution’s evidence that he intended to traffic minors for the purpose of sex or that he had intended to produce child pornography.
Derrick Lewis’ reacts to recent arrest
When asked about the incident in his pre-fight press conference, Lewis didn’t take the question seriously.
“Nah, I don’t think that was me,” he said. “That guy had hair. You seen the picture? I ain’t got no hair. That ain’t me. I don’t know.”
Lewis went on to lose to Jailton Almeida by unanimous decision.
The impact of Aniah’s Law
November 8th marked the one year anniversary of the passing of Aniah’s Law in Alabama. The law, named for Aniah Blanchard, gives judges more power to deny bail to individuals accused of violent crimes.
Previously, judges could only deny bail to individuals charged with capital crimes.
The law change came after Blanchard, 19, was kidnapped and murdered in Auburn, AL. Ibraheem Yazeed has been charged with her homicide. At the time of Blanchard’s abduction Yazeed was on bail, awaiting trial, over a separate attempted murder charge.
Blanchard’s stepfather, UFC heavyweight Walt Harris, campaigned with the rest of her family to have Aniah’s Law passed in the state.
Over the last year Aniah’s Law has been used to deny bail in a number of “big cases” in the state, according to ABC 3340. It was used to deny bail to a suspect in a mass shooting at a sweet 16 birthday party in Dadeville and it was used to deny bond to a man accused of several sexual offences in Shelby County.
Opponents of Aniah’s Law claim the law gives too much power to judges and strips too many protections from people who are innocent until proven guilty.
Opponents are also concerned how the law effects Alabama’s jail population. The state’s incarceration rate is one of the highest in the US with 938 people per 1,000 living behind bars (per Prison Policy Initiative). The US average is 664.
In Other News
Bellator veteran arrested over parking lot dispute
Bellator and The Ultimate Fighter veteran Kemran Lachinov said he tried to intervene when he saw what he believed was a disabled person being abused inside a vehicle outside of a business he owns in Springfield, MA.
However, after he tried to intervene (which included going inside the vehicle), four police officers grabbed him and pinned him to the ground. He was then charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. (full story)
The incident was captured on CCTV:
Three arrested over shooting of boxer Izaac Colunga
Three people were arrested in Riverside, CA this week on suspicion of a 2019 drive-by-shooting that struck boxer Izaac Colunga. The shooting happened at a house party and left Colunga in critical condition, unable to use his arms and legs.
Colunga, who was 24 at the time of the shooting, had turned pro a year prior and had amassed a 4-0 record.
Colunga survived the shooting and was able to regain the use of his limbs. He continues to train. (full story)
Heavyweight prospect seen as ‘future Tyson Fury’ arrested
Undefeated heavyweight prospect Jared Anderson, 23, was arrested in Ohio this week and charged with improper handling of firearms in a vehicle while being under the influence of intoxicated substances. He was also charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Anderson has a 16-0 record with 15 KOs. WBC champ Tyson Fury has remarked that he sees Anderson as “heir to the throne” of the heavyweight division. (full story)
JMMA veteran accused of ramming car into police station in Canada
Kultar Gill, who fought for DREAM and K-1 in the mid 2000s, is accused of ramming his car into a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) building in Langley, British Columbia. Reportedly, there was a woman hanging out of one of the car’s doors when the incident happened.
Gill has been charged with criminal negligence, causing bodily harm, aggravated assault and two counts of failure to stop.
Gill owns Mamba Martial Arts Academy in Abbotsford, BC and promotes Mamba Fight League and Mamba Fight Night events across the province. (full story)
Wrestling program facing Federal lawsuit
Kalispell Public School officials in Montana have been named as defendants in a Federal lawsuit that accuses the Glacier High School wrestling team of permitting “a culture and ‘traditions’ of hazing and assault.”
The lawsuit has been brought forward by the parent of a child who wrestled at Glacier High School. The parent alleges that their 15-year-old son witnessed older wrestlers sexually assault another teammate in a motel room during an overnight trip in February. The day after this, it is alleged, the 15-year-old was himself sexually assaulted by other wrestlers on the bus ride home.
The lawsuit accuses school officials of knowing about the tradition of older wrestlers abusing younger wrestlers and failing to protect them from the assaults. (full story)
Amateur fighter accused of kidnap and attempted murder
Jose Adolfo Espinoza-Espinoza, 38, has been charged with attempted murder after deliberation, first-degree assault, first-degree kidnapping, criminal extortion, obstruction of a telephone and domestic violence in Pueblo West, MT.
Espinoza-Espinoza is accused of choking his wife to the point of unconsciousness outside of their home and then violently shaking her and throwing her to the ground. Espinoza-Espinoza is an amateur boxer and MMA fighter. (full story)
Survivors of sexual assault can find support via the following organizations:
End Rape on Campus (EROC), 1-424-777-EROC (3762).
Canada – Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, 1-877-232-2610.
UK – UK Says No More.
Rest of the World – International Rape Crisis Hotlines.
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