Cross-Examinations of “Varsity Blues” Prosecution’s Witnesses Underway

Water Polo Team

Partners Kori Bell and Stephen G. Larson are primed to thoroughly interrogate the witnesses testifying against their client, former University of Southern California (USC) water polo coach Jovan Vavic, as Law360 has reported in daily updates since the “Varsity Blues” bribery trial began.

March 11 — Former USC Women’s Soccer Coach Ali Khosroshahin

The prosecution first called former USC women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin, who testified that Mr. Vavic “convinced [him] to join the admissions scheme despite reservations about lying to school officials,” Law360 reported.

In turn, Law360 noted, “[Mr.] Vavic’s counsel asked about [Mr.] Khosroshahin’s motivations for pleading guilty and testifying.” During her cross-examination, Kori “pointed out that he might receive a lesser prison sentence after cooperating—an apparent attempt to discredit the former coach’s testimony.”

“The U.S. attorney is going to weigh your cooperation, including everything you say today, in terms of its value to the prosecution and not just your truthfulness, right?” Kori asked. To which Mr. Khosroshahin replied that he pled guilty to “take responsibility for what I did and set a good example for my daughter.”

Kori then questioned [Mr.] Khosroshahin “about the fundraising culture at USC, echoing Stephen’s suggestion during opening statements that the university actually encouraged coaches to recruit athletes in exchange for donations . . . [She] referenced an interview with prosecutors in which [Mr.] Khosroshahin purportedly claimed a top administrator had encouraged him with a ‘wink and a nod’ to enter into quid pro quo deals with wealthy parents.”

Mr. Khosroshahin “countered that the suggestion referred not to soliciting applicant donations, but to accepting Rolex watches as gifts from boosters,” Law360 wrote.

March 17 — FBI Special Agent Keith Brown

Kori cross-examined FBI Special Agent Keith Brown, during which she asked if he thought scheme ringleader William “Rick” Singer was a “con man,” Law360 reported.

“Based on my review of the calls, yes,” [Special Agent] Brown said.

“The admission,” Law360 assessed, “adds weight to a key defense narrative: that [Mr.] Singer, a smooth-talking college counselor, tricked [Mr.] Vavic just as much as anyone else.”

Law360 continued that Kori “pressed Brown about whether Singer was still a con man after government agents confronted him in September 2018 and signed him up to cooperate on what snowballed into the sprawling ‘Operation Varsity Blues.'”

“Generally when people start cooperating with the government they don’t become angels overnight,” [Special Agent] Brown said.

Kori’s questions to Special Agent Brown, Law360 observed, “appeared engineered to bring out daylight between [Mr.] Vavic and [Mr.] Singer’s lies or distortions to parents during phone calls or crafted into their children’s college admissions paperwork . . . For instance, while [Mr.] Singer told [hedge fund founder John] Wilson that [Mr.] Vavic had a spot for his son on the water polo team, the coach had emailed [Mr.] Singer that there were no guarantees he could get [Mr.] Wilson’s son on the team, but he would be presented to an admissions committee along with his top walk-on players, according to the emails introduced at trial.”

Kori “also turned the jury’s attention to another email in which [Mr.] Singer told [Mr.] Wilson that [Mr.] Vavic told him to ’embellish’ his son’s resume . . . In reality, [Kori] said, [Mr.] Vavic had not yet seen the Wilson son’s resume and only requested it be a ‘good’ one.”

March 21 — IRS Special Agent Liz Keating

While IRS Special Agent Liz Keating told the jury that Mr. Singer “ponied up for the Vavic family’s tuition bill” for their sons’ private high school as a bribe for getting wealthy children recruited as athletes and admitted to USC, Stephen noted in his cross-examination of the witness that “the tuition payments were characterized as ‘aid grants’ . . . It was the type of payment [Mr.] Singer, who even a government agent admitted is a ‘con man,’ said his foundation made on a routine basis,” Law360 reported that Stephen added.

“There is nothing, in anything Rick Singer made public, in his public presentation, that this was not a legitimate foundation providing scholarships, tuition aid grants, that sort of thing, to students around the world, correct?” Stephen asked Ms. Keating, to which she replied, “Correct.”

Stephen and Kori continue to counter the prosecution’s argument that [Mr.] Vavic “knowingly duped USC into accepting students on the false premise that they would contribute to his national championship-winning water polo program” by asserting that [Mr.] Vavic “only accepted student-athletes who actually played the sport and who could fill some role with the program.”

“Despite the self-evident nature of the fact,” Law360 reported Stephen stated during the cross-examination, his client “stresses ‘over and over again’ that he can only recruit actual water polo players.”

March 22 — Former USC Soccer Coach Laura Janke

Former USC Soccer Coach Laura Janke explained to the jury how she worked with Mr. Khosroshahin and Mr. Singer to “falsify athletic credentials in exchange for money,” both during her time at USC and after she left and continued to work for Mr. Singer. “During cross-examination, [Ms.] Janke acknowledged that former USC athletic administrator Donna Heinel, who has also admitted guilt, sometimes pushed through [Mr.] Singer’s fake athletes without involving the coaches of the respective sports,” Law360 noted.

“There were eight or nine examples referenced where Dr. Heinel is working directly with Mr. Singer, right?” Kori asked, to which Ms. Janke replied, “Correct.”

Read the full article published on March 11 by Rachel Scharf of Law360 here, the full article published on March 17 by Brian Dowling of Law360 here, the full article on March 21 by Chris Villani of Law360 here, and the full article published on March 22 by Chris Villani of Law360 here covering the prosecution’s witnesses and the Larson team’s cross-examinations (subscription required).


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