Jovan Vavic, the famed former USC water polo coach, to get a new trial in the admissions scandal



CNN

The former coach of the University of Southern California, who was convicted of his role in the college admissions scandal that rocked elite US schools earlier this year, has been granted a new trial.

Jovan Vavic, USC’s famed water polo coach for 25 years, was convicted by a jury in April of soliciting and accepting more than $220,000 in bribes in exchange for helping secure student admissions. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, bribery of federal programs and honest services wire fraud.

Prosecutors alleged that he created a “side door” for students to become athletic recruits by naming water polo recruits whether they played the sport or not. He was also accused of using fake sports resumes in the process.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani granted Vavic’s request for a new trial, but denied his request for a judgment of acquittal.

“In granting a new trial, the Court recognizes what we have long argued: the government’s case rests on the knowingly false statements of admitted fraudster Rick Singer,” defense attorney Stephen Larson said in an emailed statement. “As we have proven and the Court now confirms, there is no evidence that Coach Vavic used donations to the USC water polo program for his own benefit.”

Prosecutors did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Vavic’s attorneys argued in court that the evidence presented at trial was “insufficient” on the conspiracy counts he faced, and that the honest services mail and wire fraud counts “caused prejudicial discharge.”

The defense team also argued that a prosecutor made mistakes in closing arguments, including when prosecutors said Vavic agreed to hire a student for $100,000.

“The government’s argument that he was agreeing to agree to hire a student for his water polo program was supported by this evidence. But his assertion that the agreement was for $100,000 was not supported by the evidence,” Talwani said in his decision.

The misrepresentations alone were not enough to warrant a new trial, Talwani wrote, but the situation was aggravated when prosecutors found statements by scheme mastermind Rick Singer to be false.

“The government allegedly introduced Singer’s statements to show how Singer solicited the parents as part of the scheme,” Talwani wrote. “But when the government failed to offer a rebuttal or admission to the jury that Singer’s statements about Vavic were not offered for their truth, there is a substantial risk that the jury will reach a decision based on false evidence.”

Singer, prosecutors said, committed two general frauds: First, cheating on standardized tests for students paid for by parents; and second, using Singer’s relationships with college athletic coaches and using bribes to get the parents’ children into school with fake athletic credentials.

Vavic, a 15-time national coach of the year, was sacked in March 2019 after allegations of his involvement in the fraud became public. His men’s teams at USC won 10 national titles and he led the women to six crowns.

Most of those accused in the admissions scandal have pleaded guilty and served their sentences, generally measured in weeks or months.

Among the high-profile parents charged in the testing part of the scheme was actress Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying Singer $15,000 to boost her older daughter’s test scores. Huffman spent 11 days in jail in 2019.

Another actress, Lori Loughlin, spent two months in jail and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, spent five months in jail for paying $500,000 to get their two daughters into USC as recruited athletes.

Singer, who pleaded guilty to multiple conspiracy charges in 2019, will be sentenced in November, according to the Justice Department.