Jovan Vavic, a famous water polo coach at USC for 25 years, was found guilty by a jury in April of soliciting and accepting more than $220,000 in bribes in exchange for helping to guarantee the admission of students. He was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribes under federal programs, and honest services wire fraud.
Prosecutors alleged he created a “side door” for students to become athletic recruits by designating them as water polo recruits whether or not they played the sport. They also alleged that he used fake sports resumes in the process.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani granted Vavic’s motion 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 is based on the knowingly false statements of convicted fraudster Rick Singer,” defense attorney Stephen Larson said in a statement sent by email. “As we have demonstrated and the Court now confirms, there is no evidence that Coach Vavic ever used donations to the USC water polo program for his own benefit.”
US Attorney Rachael S. Rollins said a conviction was the right decision.
“We are very disappointed with this decision, which we believe is not based on the facts or the law. The jury convicted Mr. Vavic on every count and we believe they understood correctly. “, said the prosecutor. “At this point we are looking at all of our options.”
Vavic’s lawyers argued in court that the evidence presented at trial was “insufficient” in relation to the conspiracy charges he was facing, and that it was “causing detrimental fallout” on the account of Vavic. honest services mail and wire fraud.
The defense team also argued that a prosecutor made inaccurate statements during closing arguments, including when the prosecutor said Vavic agreed to recruit a student for $100,000.
“The government’s argument that it agreed to recruit a student for money into its water polo program was supported by this evidence. But the claim that the deal was for $100,000 was not supported. by any evidence,” Talwani said in his ruling.
The inaccuracies alone were not enough to warrant a new trial, Talwani wrote, but the situation was made worse by the fact that prosecutors presented statements from scheme mastermind Rick Singer that were false.
“The government presumably presented Singer’s statements to show how Singer was soliciting parents as part of the scheme,” Talwani wrote. “But where the government has made no disclaimer or acknowledgment to the jury that it is not offering Singer’s statements about Vavic for truth, there is a substantial risk that the jury will make a decision based on fake evidence.”
Singer, according to prosecutors, organized two general scams: first, to cheat on standardized tests for students whose parents paid; and second, using Singer’s connections to college athletic trainers and using bribes to get paying parents’ children into school with fake athletic credentials.
Singer, who pleaded guilty to multiple conspiracy charges in 2019, is expected to be sentenced in November, according to the Justice Department.
CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.