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Gilbert karate teacher charged with 8 felony child sex crimes

Dyllon DePalma, 22, was recently indicted by a grand jury.

GILBERT, Ariz. — A Gilbert martial arts instructor has been indicted for child sex crimes with a former student who also worked for him.

Dyllon DePalma, 22, has been charged with eight felony counts of sexual conduct with a 15-year-old girl by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

The teacher was arrested on March 18 by Gilbert police at his family’s business DePalma’s Team USA Martial Arts, a state vendor that gets ESA voucher money.

On March 6, a woman reported her 15-year-old daughter told her she had sex with the 22-year-old on three occasions.

Court records said the victim met DePalma through karate about seven years before the report and maintained contact with him throughout that time.

In October 2022, DePalma asked the victim to work for him at the karate school’s front desk.

During an interview with detectives, the victim said the first incident occurred on Oct. 27 while she was working at the studio. The two reportedly had sex and DePalma fired the 15-year-old the next day, police said.

Court documents said the victim remained in contact with DePalma after, as she still attended classes at a Queen Creek location.

The victim told investigators she had sex with DePalma a second time at his home in December after he picked her up at her home. There the two drank alcohol and had sex, and DePalma asked to see the victim’s phone and deleted his number, court records said.

Police said once the victim got home, she noticed DePalma’s number was deleted and messaged him on Facebook Messenger. The two continued communicating there and sent each other nude and partially nude images, documents said.

On March 2, DePalma and the victim had sex a third time after police said she snuck out of her bedroom window and met him at his car down the street from her Queen Creek home. A week later, the victim called DePalma, where he admitted knowing she was underage, police said.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office investigated DePalma in November 2021 after it was reported the karate instructor had asked a 13-year-old girl to send him nude photos, despite knowing she was underage, court documents said.

DePalma was a karate instructor at the time. MCSO told 12News the case was closed, and no charges were filed after further investigation.

DePalma was taken into custody on March 18 at his family’s business, DePalma’s Team USA Martial Arts studio in Gilbert.

During an interview with detectives, DePalma admitted the victim was a former student and employee of his but denied he had a sexual relationship with the 15-year-old and told investigators “He was never alone with the victim in private and she had never been at his residence,” court records said.

DePalma was released a day after his arrest after he paid a $25,000 cash bond and was outfitted with an electronic monitor. He was ordered not to have any contact with minors.

The 22-year-old was booked on three counts of sexual conduct with a minor, but the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office charged DePalma with eight felony charges of sexual conduct with a minor.

The karate studio where DePalma worked gets ESA voucher money, which program doesn’t require fingerprinting of employees.

12News asked Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne why there are no background checks done for program vendors, which lacks accountability.

“That issue was considered by the legislature when they passed universal ESA’s and there had been a proposal to include background checks,” Horne said. “The legislature decided not to do, so I’m a servant to the legislature. I have to do whatever they decide.”

12News tried to speak with the karate school owner Wednesday but was told he was unavailable.

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