Former USC Head Water Polo Coach Convicted by Jury in College Admissions Scheme
Defendant solicited and accepted over $220,000 in bribes to secure the admission of students by designating them as purported athletic recruits
BOSTON – The former head coach of the University of Southern California (USC) water polo teams was convicted by a federal jury today in connection with soliciting and accepting bribes to facilitate the admission of students to USC as purported athletic recruits.
This verdict represents the final conviction in the college admissions scandal involving William “Rick” Singer. 54 defendants have either pleaded guilty or were convicted by a federal jury.
Jovan Vavic, 60, of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., was convicted following a five-week jury trial of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and honest services wire fraud. U.S. Senior District Court Judge Indira Talwani scheduled sentencing for July 20, 2022. Vavic was arrested and charged in March 2019.
“With today’s conviction, the government has now held 55 individuals accountable for what is arguably one of the largest scandals in academia history. To say that the conduct in this case is reprehensible is an understatement. The rich, powerful and famous, dripping with privilege and entitlement, used their clout and money to steal college admissions spots from more hard-working, qualified and deserving students. This case was a righteous one and I could not be prouder of our prosecutors in securing this verdict,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins.
“Today’s verdict proves that Jovan Vavic participated in a rigged system that robbed students of their right to a fair shot at getting into the University of Southern California. By taking $220,000 in bribes, Vavic fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for hard-working student athletes said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. “We are grateful for the jury’s decision to hold him accountable.”
“Today’s guilty verdict proved that Mr. Vavic’s credibility and character was for sale,” said Joleen D. Simpson, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division, Boston Office. “Without the willful participation of University coaches and officials like Mr. Vavic, this scheme would have failed at the outset. Instead, Mr. Vavic and others abused the positions they held at prestigious universities for nothing other than financial gain.”
“Today’s action shows that Mr. Vavic abused his position of trust for personal gain, and in doing so, damaged the reputation of the school and hurt the school and the legitimate students he was supposed to serve. That is unacceptable,” said Terry Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Eastern Regional Office. “Deservedly, he will now be held accountable for his criminal actions.”
Mr. Vavic was a highly successful coach and served as head coach of the men’s and women’s water polo teams at USC for more than 20 years. During this time, he led the teams to a history-making more than a dozen national championships.
Evidence at trial established that Mr. Vavic participated in an illicit path that Singer, the scheme’s mastermind, dubbed the “side door”— securing admission to selective colleges via athletics, regardless of whether or not the students actually played the sports.
Beginning in at least 2013, Mr. Singer made payments to a USC account that funded Mr. Vavic’s team and paid private school tuition for his children. In return Mr. Vavic would flag students as purported water polo players to be admitted as recruited athletes. Mr. Vavic also agreed to recruit other coaches to join in the scheme.
Singer previously pleaded guilty and is schedule to be sentenced at a later date.
Case information, including the status of each defendant, is available here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/investigations-college-admissions-and-testing-bribery-scheme.
The charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. The charge of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. The charge of wire fraud and honest services wire fraud provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater and restitution. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes which govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.
U.S. Attorney Rollins, FBI SAC Bonavolonta, IRS CI SAC Simpson and DOE OIG SAC Harris made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen E. Frank, Leslie A. Wright and Ian Stearns of Rollins’ Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit are prosecuting the case.