John Bitter, the former Santa Clara Swim Club coach who was charged with embezzlement, grand theft and forgery earlier this year pled no contest Sept. 26, the Mercury News reported Friday.
He admitted to embezzling at least $500,000 in Santa Clara Swim Club money and using it to purchase the Tipsy Coyote Bar and Grill in Scottsdale, Arizona. Investigators found that he bought the bar for $750,000, $300,000 of which came from a loan taken out in the club’s name.
Bitter was formally charged April 11 and was arraigned in May in California on a total of eight charges, including six felonies. He is now under house arrest after having been held at Elmwood men’s jail since being arrested in Arizona and extradited back to California.
He entered his plea after the judge on the case offered a sentence of no longer than five years and eight months in prison, which is three years fewer than the maximum prison time imposed under the charges, according to the Mercury News. Bitter is ineligible for probation because his theft exceeded $100,000, and his sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2020.
Speaking with the Mercury News, Bitter declined to comment on the details of his case but discussed the impending resolution broadly.
“I’d love to stand up in front of people and bare my soul,” he said, but added that the “requirements involved in his plea” limit what he can say. “I’ve gone through every type of emotion you can think of. … It is something I have to wrestle with on a daily basis. I have to reconcile with myself the disappointment I have created to the people I dedicated my life to helping.”
Erik Colwill, the club’s financial director, told the Mercury News that he’s happy to be moving on.
“I’m glad it’s been resolved,” Colwill said. “I hope we can put this behind us and go back to focusing on the children.”
Bitter was terminated by the club in September after the board of directors gathered evidence of the misappropriated funds. From 2009 through 2017, Bitter was the General Chair of the Pacific Swimming LSC Board of Directors and is a former Vice-Chair of Program Development for USA Swimming.
The Santa Clara Swim Club was a long-time host on USA Swimming’s Pro Swim Series (previously known as the Grand Prix Series), and for a period in the 1960s and 1970s was arguably the most successful club in the United States. Among the program’s alumni are Pablo Morales, Don Schollander, Donna de Varona, and 9-time Olympic gold medalist Mark Spitz.
Allison Beebe was briefly elevated to the head coach position after Bitter’s departure but is no longer listed on the team’s website.