Vavic, Others Accused in Varsity Blues Admissions Scandal Plead Not Guilty

Jovan Vavic. Photo Courtesy: USC Athletics

The Associated Press and others reports that all twelve defendants who were arraigned today in federal court in Boston entered “Not Guilty” pleas in connection with Operation Varsity Blues, an investigation into a massive admissions scandal. Implicated are senior administrators and coaches at some of the country’s most exclusive colleges and universities, including Georgetown, Stanford, the University of Southern California, Yale and Wake Forest.

The list of those charged with criminal racketeering—which carries up to a 20-year sentence and $250,000 in fines—include Jovan Vavic and Donna Heinel of USC. Vavic, the former Trojan men’s and women’s water polo coach, is accused of accepting $250,000 in bribes. Heinel, formerly the USC Athletic Department’s Senior Women’s Administrator, is alleged to have taken $1.3 million in illegal payments. Both were implicated in a scheme masterminded by William “Rick” Singer—part of a $25 million-dollar operation whereby affluent families sought to game admissions requirements by utilizing what Singer termed a “side door”—making payments to coaches and athletic department administrators who then gave preferential treatment to non-athletes. Founder of the Edge College & Career Network, Singer has already plead guilty and is providing evidence of wrong-doing to FBI agents.

[Commentary: The Rise and Scandalous Fall Of USC Water Polo Coach Jovan Vavic]

The tone for today’s responses was set by Heinel’s lawyer, Nina Marino, who said: “These charges come as a complete shock. Anyone who knows Donna Heinel knows she’s a woman of integrity and ethics with a strong moral compass.”

Both Heinel and Vavic were fired on Wednesday, March 13—when the indictment was unsealed—by then Interim President Wanda M. Austin. Last week, USC announced that Carol L. Foit will become the university’s 12th president, effective in July.

[After a Quarter Century in Troy, Jovan Vavic Fired as USC Men’s & Women’s Head Water Polo Coach]

In addition to Heinel and Vavic, the list of those paraded before a federal magistrate today in Boston’s Moakley Federal Courthouse include: Gordon Ernst, former Georgetown tennis coach; Jorge Salcedo, former UCLA men’s soccer coach, Bill Ferguson, Wake Forest women’s volleyball coach; Igor Dvorskiy, director of West Hollywood Preparatory School; Martin Fox, president of Private Tennis Academy & Camp in Houston; Laura Janke, former assistant coach of women’s soccer at USC; Ali Khosroshahin, former head coach of women’s soccer at USC; Steven Masera, accountant and financial officer for Edge College and Career Network and Key Worldwide Foundation; Mikaela Sanford, employee at Edge College and Career Network and Key Worldwide Foundation; and Niki Williams, test administrator for the College Board and ACT.

According to the case pursued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Boston, the coaches charged today are accused of accepting bribes in exchange for helping applicants improperly gain admissions, accepting falsified records that touted the candidates as athletic recruits. In fact, the majority of admitted students had no proficiency in the sport they were admitted for.