Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Families defend youth soccer coach charged with sex abuse

Police field calls from parents concerned about their daughters

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Some families involved with the county's youth soccer community are uniting to defend a coach who was accused last week of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl attending a soccer camp, as police are fielding calls from concerned parents.

Juan Jose Aranguri, 46, has stepped down as coach of a girls' team with the Bethesda Soccer Club, and has been suspended from other coaching duties with MSI, one of the county's largest soccer clubs, pending the outcome of the criminal case against him.

Aranguri, 46, is director of the South America Soccer Academy, which meets at the Bretton Woods Recreation Center on River Road. He was arrested last week for allegedly inappropriately touching a girl in July while she was a student at the academy.

According to police, Aranguri began massaging the 12-year-old's legs after she developed leg cramps and then proceeded to inappropriately touch the child, prompting her to repeatedly push his hand away, said Lt. Paul Starks, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police, citing the statement of charges against Aranguri.

Starks said police have received numerous calls from parents expressing concern on both sides of the issue — including from several seeking advice for determining whether there had been any inappropriate contact between Aranguri and their children.

"This is simply probable cause for arrest and charging him," Starks said. "It doesn't rise to the level of conviction."

Tanya Nazarian, the mother of 12-year-old girl who was also coached by Aranguri at the academy, said she doesn't believe the coach would inappropriately touch a child. Nazarian, along with members of Bethesda Legacy, the girls' team associated with the Bethesda Soccer Club, has come to his defense.

Families of the players recently held a meeting to discuss the charges, at which the sentiment was one of support for Aranguri, said Mark Lauda, team manager and the father of a team member.

"It's absolutely the general perception – we think he's going to be vindicated," Lauda said.

"The parents all saw this as a time to come together, rather than the opposite," said Doug Schuessler, executive director of MSI. Though Aranguri was not employed by MSI, he coached one of the organization's teams, and has been suspended from his coaching duties, Schuessler said.

"We've taken the appropriate protective action — which is imperative," he said. "But beyond that, we'll let the process play itself out before drawing any conclusions."

Nazarian said Aranguri, known as JJ, had coached her daughter for five years. She said her daughter never indicated concern over inappropriate conduct by the coach.

"We sat down and talked with her, and she was just devastated," Nazarian said. "She said, ‘Mom, there's no way that JJ would ever do anything like that.'"

The Nazarians, who said they vacationed with Aranguri and his family, described him as a man who loves soccer and is a caretaker for his own children.

"This has really been kind of a shock to everyone who knows the man," said Jeffrey Roman, Nazarian's son.

Aranguri, of the 5700 block of Luxemburg Street in North Bethesda, was arrested Aug. 11 and charged with sexual abuse of a minor and two counts of third-degree sexual offense, according to a statement issued by Montgomery County Police.

Lauda said his daughter had never complained of an inappropriate incident involving Aranguri. "I'm certain if something like that was going on, we would have known about it," Lauda said. "I know my daughter wouldn't keep quiet about something like that."

Schuessler said that Aranguri, like other coaches, had been subject to routine background checks. "There were no flags raised," he said.