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A lawsuit alleging a Nashville fencing coach sexually abused a 13-year-old girl over a two year period will remain on hold until the criminal case against him is resolved, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The coach, 38-year-old Robert Piraino, remains in a Nashville jail, charged with 108 counts involving sexual abuse of the girl, whose name has been shielded by the court. Piraino was out on bond after a grand jury issued indictments in the case last year, then rearrested in June after a 17-year-old boy stepped forward with new allegations of sexual abuse.
The civil lawsuit, filed by the girl and her parents, also names USA Fencing, the national governing body for the Olympic sport. It alleges the organization knew of Piraino’s inappropriate behavior towards his young students yet failed to act before he sexually abused the girl. A spokesman for USA Fencing declined to comment on ongoing litigation. Piraino’s public defender also declined comment.
A trial date in Piraino’s criminal case has not yet been set. He is next due in a Nashville criminal court for a pre-trial discussion on Aug. 17.
Piraino was influential in the world of elite fencing, training girls and boys at Music City Fencing Club in Nashville, a USA Fencing-approved facility that drew hundreds of young athletes vying for a shot at the Olympics or on a college team. The club is also being sued.
His inappropriate behavior towards young athletes wasn’t a secret, the civil lawsuit alleges.
Piraino would attend social gatherings with underage fencers, providing them alcohol. Fellow coaches — who, like Piraino, were members of USA Fencing — heard Piraino joke about “engaging in criminal sexual activity with young fencers.” One unnamed coach quoted in the suit said “‘if Piraino was serious about some of the things he said, he should spend the rest of his life in prison.’”
Piraino coerced the girl into sending increasingly suggestive photos and videos, some of which were posted online, shared with a former USA Fencing coach and sent to a known purveyor of child pornography, the lawsuit alleges. The girl, now 16, revealed the alleged abuse to her therapist.
Attorneys for the girl and her parents made the request for the civil suit to be placed on hold, pending the outcome in Piraino’s criminal cases.
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