Instructor, students defend gym owner accused of molestation
HIALEAH, Fla. (WSVN) -- A South Florida gym owner, praised as a father figure and mentor by young people who train at his business, was arrested and charged with forcing a 15-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him, a charge his defenders claim is false.
Howard Puig bonded out of jail Wednesday and returned to Padrino's MMA, the mixed martial arts school at 4735 E. 10 Ct. he has operated and lived in for two years. He was charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious battery and three counts of lewd and lascivious molestation.
"I don't have nothing to say," said Puig. "I don't have nothing to say to nobody bad and ... whatever is happening, I leave it in God's hands."
A Padrino's MMA instructor who spoke on condition of anonymity said the accuser is an unruly teen who retaliated after Puig reprimanded him for breaking house rules while living temporarily under his care at the gym. "The young guy was a bad kid, a problematic kid," he said. "The kid made everything up just to cover his stuff because he was drinking, he was using drugs, he was getting out of here at nighttime [after curfew]."
The Hialeah Building Department has ordered Puig to close down the school after detectives came to the property to investigate the sexual abuse allegations, noticed numerous code violations, including putting up walls without a permit.
The Padrino's MMA instructor said Puig's accuser is one of several troubled teens who have lived at the gym. "The gym is closed, so a lot of kids are going to be out on the street," he said.
Puig was charged after the teen and his parents went to police. His arrest affidavit states, "The defendant told [the boy] to inhale a substance from a brown bottle with grey and blue lettering." The teen, the affidavit continues, claimed the substance "prevented him from controlling his body movement."
Hialeah Police spokesperson Carl Zogby said detectives found a bottle matching the alleged victim's description in his bedroom. "We're sending it to the lab," he said. "We impounded the bottle fitting the description that this victim had told us about, and we're having it checked out in the lab and see what it contains, to see if it was a drug that was used to perpetrate this crime."
The teens who frequent Padrino's MMA insist Puig is innocent. "This guy is a father figure," said a boy.
"I've known him almost two, three years already," said Steven Parkhurst, who trains at the gym. "He won't do nothing like that."
Felix Roca said Puig lent a helping hand in his hour of need. "He helped me as a father figure, helped him as a friend, he gave me a place to stay when I was struggling and didn't have nowhere to stay," he said.
Puig said that, on advice of his attorney, he could not discuss the charges but added that his lawyer will address them in court. "I apologize, but I cannot comment on ... nothing to do with the case," he said.
Investigators said they fear there might be more victims of Puig's alleged advances. He has been ordered to refrain from contacting the teen who made the allegations.
If you have any information on the charges Puig is facing, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a reward.
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