Jovan Vavic in Varsity Blues Scandal Is Found Guilty

A federal jury on Friday convicted a former University of Southern California water polo coach of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for designating high school candidates as recruits so that they are favored in the university admission process.

Defendant Jovan Vavic was the only coach to stand trial rather than plead guilty in the federal investigation known as Operation Varsity Blues, in which wealthy parents paid bribes to make admit their children to elite schools.

Mr. Vavic was a star at USC who led the men’s and women’s water polo teams to 16 national championships. His attorneys argued during the trial that he was pressured by the university’s fundraising culture to recruit athletes whose families could afford to make large donations, but wanted that they are real athletes.

After half a day of deliberation, the Boston jury rejected those arguments, siding with prosecutors who said Mr. Vavic had received more than $200,000 in bribes from William Singer, known as name of Rick, a college admissions consultant for the wealthy, in exchange for facilitating the recruitment of athletes with fake credentials.

Mr. Vavic was convicted on all counts, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to corrupt federal programs.

Mr Singer, who co-operates with the government, has described himself as a “concierge” consultant for wealthy families, bragging that he can get their children into universities with the best brands in the country.

During the trial, Mr Vavic’s lawyers said he never embezzled money or committed fraud. They said about $100,000 of the money was deposited into a USC account for the water polo team. Another $120,000 went to pay for his sons’ private school tuition, money they said came in the form of scholarships from Mr. Singer’s foundation. Prosecutors said the foundation was a conduit for corruption.

The sweeping federal survey has exposed the dirty underbelly of college admissions. Federal prosecutors say a shrewd college consultant — Mr. Singer — was able to manipulate the preference given to recruited athletes over students who would otherwise not qualify. Prosecutors were careful to say, however, that the universities involved were not on trial and were the unwitting victims of the fraud.

The jury in Mr. Vavic’s trial appeared to accept the prosecution’s argument that the case was not about donating a building or even a large sum of money to a university, but about the lying and cheating on a college application.

In a separate part of the investigation, investigators accused parents of bribing Mr Singer to tamper with their children’s standardized test results in some cases by exploiting the system that allows students with learning disabilities to turn in in special testing locations, where Mr. Singer could set up his own agents.

USC, which has struggled to overcome its reputation as a “university for spoiled brats”, was at the center of the investigation and fired Mr. Vavic after his arrest in March 2019.

But the investigation trapped dozens of parents, coaches, exam administrators and others in a scheme that involved college athletic programs not just at USC, but also at Yale, Stanford, Wake Forest and Georgetown. Most sports officials and parents involved in the scheme have pleaded guilty rather than take a chance at trial.

Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, the actresses, have already served their prison sentences. John Wilson, a former Staples and Gap executive and founder of a real estate and private equity firm, was sentenced to 15 months, the longest sentence to date. Mr. Vavic helped recruit Mr. Wilson’s son to the water polo team.

Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.