A Winnipeg firefighter and jiu-jitsu instructor has been arrested after three girls, who were ages 12 to 18 years old when they met him, accused him of incidents of sexual abuse spanning the past 16 years.
Manuel Ruiz, 52, faces a slew of charges, including sexual assault of a child, forcible confinement and luring a child.
Police said there could be more victims.
"With his position in martial arts, as well as being a public authority, it is very possible that he had access to more than just these three victims," said police spokesperson Const. Tammy Skrabek.
In 2015, a woman contacted police alleging that in 2001, when she was underage, she was introduced to Ruiz and developed a relationship with the then 36-year-old.
He allegedly started sexually assaulting her at his jiu-jitsu studio, which was located at 80 Sherbrook St., police said.
At the time, there wasn't enough evidence to make an arrest, Skrabek said.
In the course of their investigation, police found a woman who reported being sexually assaulted by Ruiz at a different location in the city in 2005 and 2006.
A third victim, who is still under 18, was also identified by police. Ruiz allegedly contacted her through an online advertisement for escort services and paid her for sex from 2015 until recently, police said.
Skrabek said Ruiz told all three that he was a member of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and owned a jiu-jitsu studio.
Ruiz was arrested Friday.
United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg vice-president Tom Bilous said Ruiz has been placed on administrative leave while the case makes its way through court.
"We'll let the criminal allegations go through judicial process and then we'll worry about if he has a job or not," he said.
Bilous said he has known Ruiz since Bilous started working as a firefighter in Winnipeg. Ruiz was well-regarded as a firefighter and a "family man," and the allegations came as a shock, he said.
As far as he's aware, none of the alleged victims came into contact with Ruiz though his work as a firefighter, Bilous said.
"We take great pride in being held in high regard and have the trust of the public and we take that very seriously but Winnipeggers are smart people, I don't think allegations like this will reflect on the department as a whole."
Police looking for more victims
With his position in martial arts and as a firefighter, it's very possible that there are other victims, Skrabek said.
"Some of these victims were brought back to the club. Some of them were offered things like free lessons," she said.
"So in that respect, it's believed there may be others who were enticed or offered or lured by him with those two abuses of authority."
She said all of the girls were ages 12 to 18 when the abuse occurred and it can be difficult at that age to come forward to police.
"Sometimes as time passes, victims change their way of thinking. The embarrassment factor is less and the need to share their story and potentially help other victims becomes more important to them," she said.
In addition to working as a martial arts instructor, Ruiz also worked as a trainer with StreetReach teams, part of a provincial government program aimed at preventing sexual exploitation of children and youth.
As part of StreetReach, Ruiz trained staff at the Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre who work with sexually exploited girls how to restrain children without causing injury.
Ma Mawi executive director Diane Redsky said the allegations against Ruiz should serve as a wake up call for all organizations that work with vulnerable youth, that anyone can be an abuser.
"Exploiters are purposely putting themselves in positions of trust only to have access to vulnerable girls to abuse them and hurt them and harm them," Redsky said.
Police are encouraging anyone with information to contact the counter exploitation unit at 204-986-3464 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477.
Ruiz is listed as an instructor on other Winnipeg martial arts schools websites, including Ronin Ryu martial arts school on Portage Avenue. Its website said Ruiz has been a firefighter in Winnipeg since 1993 and that he has "provided training and guidance to many security companies around Manitoba and abroad."
The website also says Ruiz operated a gym at Canadian Forces Base 17 Wing in Winnipeg and it says he "provided bodyguard services to numerous dignitaries" for 10 years between 1995 and 2005.