Gymnastics instructor raped little girls in NJ and Mass., prosecutors say
WESTFIELD — A gymnastics instructor who worked at several facilities in Union County has been charged with raping at least two young girls in two states.
Jorge Rodriguez, 34, was charged this week with sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl at the Surgent’s Elite School of Gymnastics in Westfield from September 2015 to March 2016.
Before the charges were filed by the Union County Prosecutor's Office, Rodriguez already was being held in a Boston jail after being accused of raping a child in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts charges accuse Rodriguez of child rape at his home from 2016 until his arrest in March. A published report after his arrest said Rodriguez began working at a Massachusetts gym in June 2016, not long after he left Westfield.
Prosecutors say Rodriguez also worked at the Garwood and Roselle Park locations of the Surgent’s Elite School of Gymnastics.
The accusation about the 7-year-old in Westfield was first reported to township police more than six months ago.
New Jersey 101.5 did not know Wednesday whether Rodriguez had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
The owner of the gyms, James Surgent, said Wednesday that his business has been "voluntarily cooperating with the authorities with any information that could help with the investigation."
"Our instructors are safety-certified and back ground checked. Our staff has taken numerous educational courses through USA Gymnastics. Our staff meetings focus primarily on child safety. We have security cameras in all our facilities with tv monitors for parents to be able to view their child," he said in a statement provided to New Jersey 101.5.
"We consider our students extensions of our family and we prioritize protecting them."
In a separate case in this county, a 31-year-old Elizabeth man pleaded guilty this week to raping a 6-year-old girl at a motel. Jonathan Tavara-Nima was supposed to have been babysitting his victim. The girl's mother hired Tavara-Nima off a babysitter hiring website. He was arrested in May.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Surgent’s Elite School of Gymnastics.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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