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A former decorated University of Southern California water polo coach was found guilty Friday of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to recruit unqualified students so they could attend the elite institution and a test taker whose role was central to the college admissions scandal was sentenced to four months in prison.
The conviction of Jovan Vavic, 60, is the latest in a series of federal prosecutions against dozens of wealthy parents and school athletic administrators in a scandal that has since clouded the university admissions process. Vavic declined to comment as he and his family left a Boston federal court.
Prosecutors alleged he took more than $200,000 in bribes to fake athletic credentials and designate college applicants as water polo athletes to get them into the Los Angeles university.
Defense lawyers said Vavic never took a bribe and always acted in the best interest of the school and his teams. They said he was raising money for his winning program, a demand that came down from school athletic officials. The university fired him in 2019 after his arrest.
In a statement to Fox News, USC said: “We respect the judicial process and the jury’s decision.”
Prosecutors said Vavic also helped recruit others to the scheme, pointing to wiretap transcripts in which he called the arrangement a “win-win” situation and where he encouraged a fellow coach with doubts about the scheme to “just do it.”
“The defendant’s own words tell you what you need to know,” Assistant U.S Attorney Leslie Wright told the jury Thursday.
Vavic, who guided the USC men’s and women’s water polo teams to 16 national championships, is the only coach of the many implicated to challenge, in trial, his role in the scheme, which involved wealthy parents paying bribes to have their children admitted into elite schools using rigged test scores or bogus athletic accomplishments.
Also on Friday, Mark Riddell, 39, was sentenced in a Florida federal courtroom to four months in prison for his role in the deception. He was accused of accepting nearly $240,000 in payments to cheat on the ACT and SAT exams, and other tests.
Between 2011 through February 2019, Riddell conspired with William “Rick” Singer, the alleged mastermind of the scheme, to secretly take college exams in place of students. Authorities said he used fake IDs with the student’s name and his picture.
In some cases, he posed as a test proctor and secretly corrected the test answers after the students had taken the exam. Riddell was typically paid $10,000 by Singer for each test. Singer’s clients paid him between $15,000 and $75,000 per test, with the payments structured as purported donations to the Key Worldwide Foundation charity Singer controlled.
The students were unaware in some cases their parents had arranged the cheating on exams, the FBI said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.