Prosecutors claimed that a decorated former water polo coach at University of Southern California took thousands of dollars in bribes in order to create fake athletic credentials and identify college applicants as water-polo recruits in order to gain admission into the elite Los Angeles school. The latest trial in the widening college admissions scandal began Thursday in Boston federal Court.
Lawyers for Jovan Vavic presented a starkly different story, arguing that the 60-year old coach who led USC’s women’s and men’s waterpolo teams to 16 national titles never received bribes. He was simply trying to recruit players to bring in donations, just as USC officials desired.
Stephen Larson, Vavic’s lawyer, stated in his opening statements that “the evidence will prove that the college admissions scam is real, and coach Vavic wasn’t a part of it.” The trial is expected to last approximately four weeks. You will see that every dollar parents gave to USC stayed at USC. He did not take a dime.”
Prosecutors claim that Vavic was paid more than $200,000 by William “Rick” Singer, a college admissions consultant. The scheme involved wealthy parents paying bribes in order to get their children into elite schools with rigged test scores and bogus athletic achievements.
However, Vavic’s lawyers claim that $100,000 was transferred directly to a USC account for water polo teams. While $120,000 was paid for private high school tuitions for Vavic’s two sons. Singer’s non-profit organization awarded them scholarships for their outstanding student-athletic work.
Larson stated, “There is no misappropriation or fraud.”
Vavic’s lawyers argue that their client was pressured, just like other USC coaches to raise money for his teams, and that the university has a culture that gives preferential admission to children of potential donors.
However, Assistant U.S. attorney Ian Stearns claimed that USC was a victim of the scheme because Vavic lied to the students about their athletic prowess. He said that one of the students hadn’t played the sport for years, even though she was claimed to be a top-tier recruit.
USC fired Vavic after his March 2019 arrest.
Vavic is also charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and helping other coaches join the scheme. Vavic is the only coach among the many involved in the scheme that has been charged and will contest his charges in court.
Many parents and athletes have already pleaded guilty for a variety of crimes including coaching at Yale, Stanford, and Georgetown. Several parents have already served their sentences. This includes Full House star Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, as well as Desperate Housewives star Felicity Hufman.
Nearly 60 people were indicted in the investigation, which authorities called “Operation Varsity Blues”. Only Vavic and two other individuals have been charged.
John Wilson, a former executive at Staples Inc. was sentenced last month to 15 months federal prison. This sentence is the longest ever handed down. Gamal Abdelaziz was sentenced to serve one-year and one-day.