Former USC water polo coach convicted in college admissions scandal trial

·2 min read
Jovan Vavic arrives at the federal courthouse in Boston

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) -A former University of Southern California water polo coach was convicted on Friday on charges he accepted more than $200,000 in bribes to help children get into the school as fake athletic recruits in the latest trial to result from the U.S. college admissions scandal.

A federal jury in Boston found Jovan Vavic, 60, guilty on all three charges he faced following an investigation into a nationwide fraud and bribery scheme that ensnared celebrities, corporate executives and coaches at elite universities.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani set sentencing for July 20. She at times questioned the government's case, and after the verdict, Koren Bell, a lawyer for Vavic, asked her to schedule a hearing to consider throwing out the verdict.

"We are disappointed but respect the jury's decision and look forward to litigating what we believe are significant legal issues, which we believe should end the case," Bell told reporters.

Vavic denied wrongdoing, and his lawyers argued he had simply sought to legitimately raise money for his championship water polo program.

The trial was the second to result from the "Operation Varsity Blues" investigation into a scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with California college admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer to fraudulently secure placement for their children at elite schools like Stanford and Yale.

Singer pleaded guilty in 2019 to facilitating cheating on college entrance exams and bribing coaches to secure the admission of his clients' children as phony athletes.

Of 57 people charged, 54 have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, both client of Singer's.

Prosecutors said that in exchange for bribes, Vavic misled USC admissions officials into believing that unqualified high school students belonged on his championship water polo team.

The money included $100,000 for his water polo program to designate the son of private equity financier John Wilson as a recruit and nearly $120,000 that Singer paid to cover the private school tuition of Vavics' sons, prosecutors said.

Wilson was sentenced to 15 months in prison after being convicted in October with another parent in the first trial to stem from the scandal. He is appealing.

The verdict came as a key figure, former Florida private school counselor Mark Riddell, was sentenced to four months in prison for heling inflate SAT and ACT exam scores for 24 children by secretly taking their tests or correcting their answers while posing as an exam proctor.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston;Editing by Aurora Ellis)