A lawsuit from a former champion fencer alleges she was groomed and molested by a star coach while she was a teenager in the '90s, with the abuse culminating in an assault at a Phoenix hotel.
That coach, Mauro Hamza, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit alongside the U.S. Fencing Association. Most of the alleged abuse is said to have occurred in the Houston area, but the lawsuit was filed in Arizona based on an alleged assault that the plaintiff says occurred during a 1995 tournament in Phoenix when she was 17.
The previously unreported case was originally filed in Maricopa County Superior Court just before the end of last year, but lawyers for the fencing association sought to move it to federal court this week due to the potentially large dollar amount of damages and the parties being in different jurisdictions.
The Arizona Legislature recently opened a window for survivors of abuse over the age of 30 to file lawsuits through the end of 2020, leading to hundreds of lawsuits against churches and Boy Scout groups, as well as the Arizona Republic, and the musician Sting. This lawsuit was initially filed in superior court on December 23, shortly before the cutoff.
The plaintiff is unnamed in the lawsuit due to the graphic nature of the allegations, but the lawsuit says she met Hamza when she was 15 through the fencing program at Houston's Rice University, which Hamza would begin to coach the next year.
When they met, Hamza was an internationally recognized fencer who had represented his home country of Egypt in the Olympics twice and was starting out as a coach in Houston. He would go on to coach the Egyptian Olympic fencing team in 2004 and U.S. national fencing teams from 2009 to 2011. In 2009, Houston's mayor declared the day after Christmas “Mauro Hamza Day.”
According to the complaint, Hamza took advantage of the close coach-student relationship to begin making advances on the plaintiff starting when she was 16. As her fencing career progressed and she won awards, the complaint says Hamza escalated his sexual abuse and controlling behavior, which continued for more than four years and even after she eventually left for college.
The lawsuit alleges that the Colorado-based fencing association was negligent in failing to protect the plaintiff or raise alarms, even as Hamza would drive her to and from practice, bring her to his house, and stay in her room at tournaments. It doesn't specify damages but asks that they been in the highest category of $300,000 or more.
Attorneys for the U.S. Fencing Association did not respond to a call or email seeking comment. Hamza did not respond to a Facebook message request seeking comment. Lawyers for the fencing association said in a March 30 filing that they believe he has returned to Egypt. He appears to still be involved with fencing: his Facebook profile picture is a photo of him at the 2019 International Fencing Federation congress in Switzerland.
Attorneys for the plaintiff responded to an initial inquiry from New Times but did not return a request for an interview.
National sporting associations have received increased scrutiny in recent years, with former athletes lodging suits alleging that they did not do enough to protect against abuse by coaches.
In 2014, Hamza was suspended from the U.S. fencing association for at least five years for unspecified sexual misconduct, and again in 2019 pending further investigation, according to a database from the U.S. Center for SafeSport , a nonprofit that's federally authorized to track misconduct cases in national sports.