HIALEAH, Fla. - Hours after Howard Scott Puig, 50, was arrested and charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious battery and molestation on a 15-year-old boy, several members of the El Padrino Mixed Martial Arts Gym which Puig has run for the past two years came to his defense.
"I tried to do something, different now," said Puig. "Man, it's hard."
As Puig started to cry Thursday night after bonding out of jail, some of the young men he mentored stood by the side of the man they call Godfather, including mixed martial artist,, 21-year-old Jerel Marcalle.
"This man is a good man," said Marcalle. "He's done a lot for me. He's done a lot for every kid that's come here, who had trouble, who wants to learn not only to get their life straight, but the world of MMA."
Marcalle and other members and residents of El Padrino Mixed Martial Arts Gym couldn't believe the popular role model they look up to is the same man police arrested and charged with three counts of second-degree felony lewd and lascivious battery and three counts of lewd and lascivious molestation on a 15-year-old boy.
"I was struggling in my life and he gave me a place to live, which was here, and everything's been perfect," said Felix Roca. "He's been a father figure to me. He's been a friend."
"I was shocked. Flabbergasted in a way that I couldn't believe that these allegations were true because I've known this man for a long time," said Marcalle. "I knew he was not capable of doing this at all because the way he is, the way he conducts himself, is not the way that police portray him."
According to the arrest form and Hialeah police the teen accuser, with his parents' consent, moved in with Puig who lives at the gym, and became a member back in March.
In June, the teen said Puig drugged him, telling him to inhale a substance from a brown bottle, then performed sex acts on the boy on three occasions.
On Monday, the teen told his parents. Police searched the gym, confiscated a brown bottle matching the description and took Puig into custody Wednesday.
Puig's bond was set at $44,000. After Puig bonded out of jail Thursday, he told Local 10's Baron James he feels "destroyed."
"They are trying to affect me OK but they are affecting all my guys," Puig said. "All of Hialeah, all of the guys I got out of gangs and drugs. Fathers bring their kids to me saying, 'Please help me with my kids,' and I turn them around."
"He's very stern with the kids and disciplined, willing to help him, teaching them how to get off the streets," said Eric Wright.
Hialeah Police Detectives want to know if there are any other underage victims who have not come forward.
"He's had a lot of students in there, so we fear that if one of the students is a victim, there could be other victims out there who look at him as a role model, who look up to him and fear coming forward," said Lt. Carl Zogby of the Hialeah Police Dept.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Hialeah Police Department at 305-687-2525.
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