D.C.’s alleged bike groper: Not who you’d expect

Petula Dvorak
Columnist September 20, 2012

“Mauricio? OUR Mauricio? No way, man. He didn’t have any problem with women,”said one of the intense chess guys at Dupont Circle when I told him the news.

Yes, even a guy who is good looking, charming, has studied at universities in three different countries, makes beautiful food and is a skilled chess player can, according to police, be a creep.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Their Mauricio is Oscar Mauricio Cornejo-Pena, 30, a Nicaraguan immigrant currently in the D.C. jail, accused of being this summer’s notorious bike-riding groper.

According to his Facebook page and friends who worked and played chess with him, Mauricio went to culinary school, likes Ping-Pong, “That ’70s Show,” “Sex and the City” and French cuisine. And according to a seven-page court affidavit, he also rode around the Dupont Circle area on his bike this summer, violated unsuspecting women while laughing at them, and then sped away.

Cornejo-Pena clinked into court Thursday morning, in chains and an orange jumpsuit, his baby face now covered by a beard. He kept scanning the courtroom over his shoulder, looking for anyone he might know.

Individually, the attacks carry a pretty small penalty. According to the D.C. Official Code, the groper can be jailed for “not more than 180 days, and, in addition, may be fined in an amount not to exceed $1,000.” A misdemeanor akin to selling a fake Gucci purse or being a spectator at a cockfight.

But if Cornejo-Pena is found guilty of all five counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse with aggravating circumstances — the multiple victims being what aggravates the circumstances — he could get up to 3 years and 8½ months, according to U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Bill Miller.

But that isn’t even his biggest legal problem.

His bail was set at just $100 because he isn’t going anywhere. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a detainer on him, meaning ICE tagged him for deportation because he is in this country without proper documentation, according to court testimony.

Actually, it didn’t take an arrest for one local restaurateur to figure that out.

A woman who nearly hired Cornejo-Pena, but wanted to remain anonymous, told me that she would have made him a bartender. She found him “quite charming,” and his résuméincluded work at trendy hot spots all over town.

But when she ran him through E-Verify, she found him quite unemployable in the United States. His legal work status didn’t check out.

Police said he was working at the St. Regis hotel on 16th Street NW at the time of his arrest. The human resources department there hung up on me when I asked about him and whether the hotel had noticed any problems with his legal work status or his treatment of women.

Cornejo-Pena’s attorney, Lisbeth Sapirstein, twice told me that she didn’t want to comment about him or the case. I followed her down a courthouse hallway, asking whether there are friends or relatives who might want to talk with me about him. “Nobody wants to talk, nobody,” she said.

Yeah, I can guess this is hard to talk about.

Of course, Cornejo-Pena has not been found guilty of anything yet. But after he was picked up by police, Cornejo-Pena not only admitted to the attacks that police asked him about and positively identified himself on video, according to a court document, but he also volunteered a few more incidents that weren’t on their radar.

And given what he said, I can see why the people who know him are shocked.

Sexual predators, molesters and harassers are rarely who you think they are. They’re not always seething and scary and tattooed, like in the movies.

The villain can be a much-admired mentor, like Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky. Or a powerful U.S. senator, like Robert Packwood. Or a caring, charismatic teacher, like Kevin Ricks and Eric Justin Toth. Or a respected swim coach like Rick Curl.

On his Facebook page, Cornejo-Pena’s got a profile picture of himself with a pretty young woman in his lap, a group photo of him with other culinary school students and a photo of him in a white uniform, wearing hipster glasses and holding up an elegant plate of food. He clearly comes from a family of means, having gone to universities in El Salvador and Panama.

When he was first arrested, he wasn’t given a court-appointed attorney because he made too much money. He’s got friends and family, most of whom appear to be in his home country, Nicaragua, who post sweet comments about his photos.

Maybe Cornejo-Pena will have more to say when he returns to court.

But right now, most everyone around him remains speechless.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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