USC Water Polo Coach, Associate AD Charged In Admissions Scandal

University of Southern California water polo coach Jovan Vavic and senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel have both been charged with mail fraud as part of what federal officials are saying was a massive scheme to cheat college admissions standards.

The news broke today, with the Justice Department saying it had arrested “dozens of individuals involved in a nationwide conspiracy that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams.” The Justice Department website includes a long list of names charged in the scandal. You can see the full list here. Vavic and Heinel are both included under “Charged by Indictment.”

Other schools named in the indictment: Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, the University of San Diego, USC, Texas, Wake Forest and Yale.

The Scandal

The scandal centers around a man named William Rick Singer, who founded a for-profit college counseling service called “The Edge College & Career Network,” alongside a non-profit called the “Key Worldwide Foundation.”

The indictment alleges that Singer worked with parents to have someone take the ACT or SAT exams for their kids. The indictment names Mark Riddell as the primary test-taker and says he would either take the exam for the kids or change their answers. Singer would also allegedly bribe schools to designate students as recruited athletes (thereby lowering the academic admission standards) even when the students were not recruited athletes. The indictment says he would use the Key Worldwide Foundation to conceal the bribe money.

U.S. officials says that the parents using Singer to cheat the system were wealthy and famous.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts said in NPR’s coverage of the scandal. “They include, for example, CEOs of private and public companies, successful securities and real estate investors, two well-known actresses, a famous fashion designer, and the co-chairman of a global law firm.”

The indictment says that the parents paid Singer between $15,000 and $75,000 per test. Singer would advise the parents to get their kids extra time to take the test, sometimes by having the kids feign learning disabilities. Some of the money paid would be used as bribe money to test administrators who would allow someone else to secretly take the test in place of the student.

In the more sport-specific angle, the indictment says Singer would bribe coaches and school officials to designate students as recruited athletes. Other indicted individuals would help fabricate “athletic profiles” that falsely billed the students as successful high school athletes in their admissions materials.

Water Polo Specific

The indictment specifically lays out how officials say this process played out with USC’s water polo program. Singer paid $250,000 to a bank account that funded Vavic’s water polo team, the indictment says. In return, Vavic designated two students as water polo recruits. The indictment also says that Singer paid for Vavic’s children to attend private school, disguising the payments as a scholarship.

Heinel is also named. The indictment says she received payments of $20,000 a month and in return helped more than two dozen students get admitted to USC as athletes even though their credentials were fake and some of the students didn’t even play the sports they were billed as being recruited for.

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The michael phelps caterpillar
2 years ago

USC stands for U Superwealthypeople Cangetin!!!!!!

joe
Reply to  The michael phelps caterpillar
2 years ago

got em

anonymous
Reply to  The michael phelps caterpillar
2 years ago

One of the people involved was from Newport Beach, not super rich but a rich enough place.

Jimbo
2 years ago

Well then

Fat swammer
2 years ago

This is really weird.

Sad too— I’d bet some of these non rev programs are considered for the chopping block. College ADs have enough issues. Stuff like this should be easy to avoid— just play it straight!

toastedcoconut
2 years ago

Ok but also what do these kids do once they’re admitted to these top-tier schools with zero work ethic?

applesorangesandbananas
Reply to  toastedcoconut
2 years ago

I don’t know about the water polo specific issues, but some of the kids might not have known what their parents were doing. If parents don’t know what their kids are doing 24/7, kids know even less about what their parents are doing 24/7, even when the decisions concern them.

DLSwim
Reply to  applesorangesandbananas
2 years ago

For sure the kids offered athletic scholarships that were not proficient at the sport had to have known.

JimSwim22
Reply to  DLSwim
2 years ago

There is no allegation that scholarships are offered. Rather they were designated as athletes on their application, essentially walk on athlete which can lower standards to get in to the college

DLSwim
Reply to  JimSwim22
2 years ago

Ooops, I think you’re right. They were designated as “recruits”, but there is no mention of scholarship money.

Jeepers
Reply to  applesorangesandbananas
2 years ago

They posed for fake pictures. They knew.

sparklingwater
Reply to  toastedcoconut
2 years ago

When I went on a recruiting trip to one of the elite schools named in the indictment (not USC) I was told by an assistant swim coach, “Don’t worry, getting in is the hard part – once you get here the classes are easy.” That really bothered me. I got in, but chose to attend a different school. This was back in the 90s. Not sure much has changed since then.

Admin
Reply to  sparklingwater
2 years ago

I’ve heard many Ivy League graduates say the same thing.

David Berkoff
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 years ago

It depends what courses and major you follow. Not sure you can cruise through chemistry or physics or applied math. But in my experience it was hard to fail and hard to get an A.

sparklingwater
Reply to  David Berkoff
2 years ago

I agree, it does depend on what you major in. I know lots of smart people who switched out of engineering after a very stressful freshman year.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  David Berkoff
2 years ago

Exactly. Practically impossible to fail, but pretty hard to get an A.

Admin
Reply to  David Berkoff
2 years ago

True David…but engineering and physics and chemistry are challenging majors at most large universities. So, it’s all on scale.

Easy E
Reply to  toastedcoconut
2 years ago

doesn’t mean they have zero work ethic, just that they do not have the merit to get in. what I don’t get is why break the law when the time tested obvious quid pro quo of making a sizable donation is staring you in the face.

Snarky
Reply to  Easy E
2 years ago

It’s not a donation, it’s a bribe!

Foreign Embassy
2 years ago

Didn’t usc men’s win ncaas in December and their coach was coach of the year? It these funds were helping to “fund” the team, usc is in real hot water.

Snarky
2 years ago

I just read the entire indictment information. I am on the verge of vomiting. This is so wrong and so inexcusable on so many levels. One, these are ultra-wealthy parents (attorneys, actresses, venture capitalists, business tycoons) who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their undeserving kids into great colleges. The white-wealth privilege entitlement is beyond the pale. Two, what kind of parents are these! Bribing your kids’ way into a college they don’t deserve to attend? What kind of message is this? Cheating is okay, sonny, because we love you? Disgusting. Three, these people are pushing deserving and hard-working students and athletes out by using their wealth and power. SO don’t for a moment think that there are… Read more »

googoodoll
Reply to  Snarky
2 years ago

OThe wealthy WORK to get it and keep it. Two does this really hurt anyone? I say no – I come from a wealthy “white” family and have had to endure on many fronts/allegations that my parents paid for my opportunities. I am an accomplished musician – MY parents paid for lessons, expensive instruments, trips overseas and coaches. I was an elite athlete – my parents paid for great coaches, nutritionists, sports psychologists, private lessons, testosterone injections and EPO – SO??? I swam faster. I have been blessed with wealth and privilege and am supposed to feel bad??? The vast majority do not comprehend how challenging it can be as a part of a super wealthy family where every little… Read more »

DLSwim
Reply to  googoodoll
2 years ago

I can’t tell if this is sarcasm or real. I’ll go with the former — well played!

googoodoll
Reply to  DLSwim
2 years ago

Thank you…Thank you very much!

Hambone
Reply to  googoodoll
2 years ago

I’m reading either a slightly-funny joke or a really disgusting non-joke……can’t tell

Michele
Reply to  googoodoll
2 years ago

Seriously ?? Is this for real ? I can’t tell either if it is sarcasm . I hope it is !

Swimming Fan
Reply to  Snarky
2 years ago

Why do you bring race into this discussion? Wealth yes, but race? Do you know for a fact that everyone involved was white? It doesn’t seem to me to be an issue of race, only wealth to pay the bribe.

Swimmmer
2 years ago

If this was UNC basketball, they’d get a slap on the wrist. But since it’s water polo, that program is going to get the dreaded failure to monitor and burn to the ground for years.

Swammer
Reply to  Swimmmer
2 years ago

Do you know if this is even an NCAA violation?

M Palota
Reply to  Swammer
2 years ago

Way more serious than a NCAA violation. These are federal crimes.

Swammer
Reply to  M Palota
2 years ago

I wasn’t saying it isn’t serious. It obviously is. I was wondering whether this is even something the NCAA even has jurisdiction over.

BWPolo
Reply to  Swammer
2 years ago

Just an order-of-effects comment on the NCAA side: Some assistant coaches were paid via a shell company. If they did any recruiting there would be a violation. If Jovan is fine with accepting a fake NPO check to pay for his kids’ schooling then he *probably* would be fine with an NPO paying for rent and board for a foreign student, off the books. This would be a violation. Those are the 2 possible violations I’ve seen on Day 1 of this saga

marge
2 years ago

It’s likely nobody would have noticed if the students just competed on USC’s men’s swimming team this year.

Taa
Reply to  marge
2 years ago

ouch

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  marge
2 years ago

That wasn’t really Patrick Mulcare at Pac-12’s swimming those dog times. It was actually Felicity Huffman’s no-talent son disguised in a beard.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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