Partner Stephen G. Larson gave an epic, over two-hour closing argument for the defense of former University of Southern California (USC) water polo coach Jovan Vavic in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions trial, Law360 and The Associated Press reported.
“This is tough, this is tough. I’ve got an innocent client sitting here,” Law360 noted Stephen said when U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani mentioned the time. “And a very closed-minded, a very narrowly focused and unfair prosecution against him.”
The prosecutors repeated a piece of former USC women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin’s testimony where Mr. Khosroshahin said Mr. Vavic told him to “just do it” in regards to joining William “Rick” Singer’s college admissions scheme, which Judge Talwani has already ruled could not be considered “for the truth of the matter asserted,” in their closing argument. To that, Stephen “countered that there is no real proof the conversation [Mr.] Khosroshahin relayed to the jury even happened, nor is there any proof that the national title-winning coach ever knowingly joined Singer’s conspiracy,” Law360 detailed.
Mr. Vavic is accused of taking bribes in the form of tuition payments to his sons’ private high school from Mr. Singer in exchange for recruiting the children of Mr. Singer’s wealthy clients to the water polo team and granting them admission to USC. Stephen argued, The Associated Press reported, that “the money [Mr.] Vavic received went directly into a USC account for his team, and not his personal funds” and “he stressed his client believed the ‘tuition grants’ paid directly to [Mr.] Vavic’s sons’ private high school for their education were legitimate payments from a nonprofit run by [Mr.] Singer.” Mr. Singer, Law360 explained, “made it seem like his foundation frequently paid high school tuition for exceptional students, allegedly conning [Mr.] Vavic just like he conned everyone else.”
Stephen stated, “The simplest explanation is sometimes the truth. There’s no quid pro quo.”
Mr. Vavic also asserts that he “never recruited anyone he did not believe to be a real water polo player,” Law360 reported from Stephen’s closing argument. “Yes he was trying to get money for his team, and yes he was doing whatever he could legally,” The Associated Press quoted Stephen. “It is clear Jovan Vavic wanted to recruit some water polo players who could be legitimately admitted to USC and whose families could donate to USC. That was his mindset.”
“There is no fraudulent intent in the mind of my client,” Stephen said. “He did not do anything other than devote himself for 27 years to USC. He didn’t try to profit off it. He didn’t do anything but give his life, his family’s life, his son’s life to that school and to that water polo program.”
Furthermore, Law360 added from Stephen’s argument, “the admissions process at USC was corrupt by design, with spots frequently going to those whose families had sizable pocketbooks that they were willing to open for the school.”
“They don’t want to be seen publicly as who they really are. It’s all about this wink and a nod,” Stephen said. “You don’t want this rat out there that USC is a place you can buy your way into.”
At the end of what has been a contentious trial between the parties, Stephen reflected to the jury on his morning walk “to the courthouse every day past the Boston Tea Party Museum,” saying that “the nation’s founders would probably not have envisioned a day when a USC water polo coach was on trial ‘over whether Johnny Wilson should have been admitted or not.’“
“One thing they would have seen is that sometimes the government goes too far, and you need to stand up to that,” Stephen stated. “You need to say, ‘No.'”
Stephen and partner Kori Bell have been defending Mr. Vavic at trial in Boston since the beginning of March, with more than three weeks of testimony and a nearly weeklong hiatus when Judge Talwani contracted COVID-19. The jury will start deliberating on April 8.
Read the full article by Chris Villani of Law360 here (subscription required) and the full article by Philip Marcelo of The Associated Press here covering the closing arguments.