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Parents of molestation victim sue youth soccer league over failure to conduct background checks


January 10, 2013 Thursday

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The parents of a South Bay girl who was sexually abused by her soccer coach have filed a lawsuit against the nation's largest youth soccer organization and its local affiliate, claiming they failed to perform a background check that would have revealed he had a domestic violence conviction.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Santa Clara County Superior Court by the parents on behalf of their daughter, alleges U.S. Youth Soccer and the California Youth Soccer Association-North were negligent because they "have never had and still do not have a policy of requiring criminal or any other background checks for volunteers and/or employees." 



The 49-page complaint alleges the local league where the girl played, the West Valley Youth Soccer League, did not require criminal background checks during the time she played for the coach who sexually abused her. The West Valley soccer league falls under both the state and national soccer associations named in the lawsuit.

In October, the coach, 37-year-old Emanuele Fabrizio, of Sunnyvale, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child and one count of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14 as part of a deal with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

Fabrizio, who also is named as a defendant, told the girl that having a secret romantic relationship would help her become a better soccer player, according to the civil complaint.



The lawsuit says if league officials had done a simple background check through the Santa Clara County Superior Court website they would have learned Fabrizio had been convicted in 2007 for physical abuse against a woman and that a woman he had been dating obtained a restraining order against him.

"He really shouldn't have been around children, period," said attorney Kelly Raftery of the DPA Law Group, who is representing the girl and her parents. Raftery declined to discuss specifics about the case while it's being adjudicated.



Representatives from the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and West Valley Youth Soccer League did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The lawsuit claims U.S. Youth Soccer Association only requires coaches to self-report if they have criminal backgrounds. There are several leagues in the South Bay that fall under the jurisdiction of CYSA-North and the U.S. Youth Soccer Association.

The girl was 12 when she first met Fabrizio, then a coach and trainer with the West Valley league. The civil suit alleges Fabrizio became close to the girl and her family. He gave her rides to and from practices, games and tournaments. Fabrizio told the girl and her parents that she was a skilled player, and with his European soccer training, she could improve enough to one day become a high-level player in high school and college, and could potentially make the United States national team.



The suit alleges Fabrizio took some of the girls to an Earthquakes game in 2011 as part of a team-building event, and he had his arm around the girl on several occasions.

On other occasions, Fabrizio took the girl on long walks and bought her lunches. They began holding hands, sharing hugs and kissing.

Fabrizio continued to tell the girl she had the talent to become a top-level player. The girl dreamed of following in the footsteps of stars such Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm.

The girl told Fabrizio she would do anything to become a better soccer player.

Sometime after June 12, 2011, Fabrizio told the girl her lack of "life experience" was holding back her ability to be emotionally in control in soccer. He said having a secret romantic relationship and hiding it from her parents would teach her maturity and emotional discipline, skills she needed to become a high-level player, according to the suit.



In September, Fabrizio took the girl to his apartment and the two had sex shortly after she turned 13.

Authorities said the relationship began in October 2011 and continued until March. The pair had sex on five occasions, kissed at least 20 times and engaged in other sexual activity multiple times, according to the suit. Authorities have also said he possessed child pornography of the girl and had multiple inappropriate sexual conversations with her.

Other youth sports organizations, such as the American Youth Soccer Organization and Little League Baseball Inc., require volunteers who work with children to undergo criminal background checks.

Raftery said he would like to see all youth sports organizations require background checks for the adults who work with children.

"It's not hard, it's cheap, and in this case, it would have entirely prevented plaintiff from becoming Fabrizio's victim," Raftery said.



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