A Boston jury on Friday convicted a former University of Southern California water polo coach on all charges connected to his role in a massive college admissions scam, ending a far-reaching prosecution that rocked higher education.
It took less than five hours for the federal panel to convict the 60-year-old Jovan Vavic, who had led his Trojans to 16 national men’s and women’s titles, of fraud and bribery. Prosecutors said he received about $250,000 in bribes for designating unqualified students as water polo recruits so they could attend USC.
After the conviction, Vavic walked past reporters without answering any questions. Lawyers for Vavic argued he was just doing what he could to raise money for his dominant, championship-winning program as athletic officials had demanded. They maintained he never lied, never took a bribe and was a victim of USC’s desire to cover up a “pervasive culture” of accepting wealthy students who could provide donation windfalls.
The university, which fired Vavic after his 2019 arrest, has stressed its admissions processes are “not on trial.”
The convictions closed the book on “Operation Varsity Blues” prosecutions as all 57 defendants have pleaded guilty, agreed to plead guilty or been convicted.
There are still sentencing hearings and appeals scheduled, but all matters of guilt or acquittal have been settled.
U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins called these prosecutions “one of the largest scandals in the history of academia.”
“In March 2019, my predecessor Andrew Lelling stood here announcing charges against 57 people nationwide for cheating on college entrance exams and bribing athletic coaches to secure admissions to elite colleges and universities,” Rollins told reporters after the Vavic verdict.
“It is my privilege to stand here today just over three years later, to announce that justice has been served to every single person from fake proctors to test takers to coaches to the parents, to the mastermind and con man himself Rick Singer, have been held accountable.”
Actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were the most high- profile defendants in the scandal that erupted three years ago.
Parents paid scheme organizer William “Rick” Singer millions of dollars to boost chances of their kids getting into elite universities such as Yale, Georgetown and Stanford.
He arranged for standardized tests to be taken or altered for these well-heeled parents’ children and paid coaches to pass off those students as high-level athletes worthy of special admission.
Singer, who has been cooperating with the FBI and prosecutors, is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 8.
“To say that the conduct in this case was reprehensible is an understatement,” Rollins said. “The rich, powerful and famous, dripping with privilege and entitlement, used their money and clout to steal college admissions spots from more qualified and deserving students.”
The Associated Press contributed.