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College Admissions Scam Fallout: USC Fires 2 Athletic Employees, Stanford Fires A Coach

USC athletics official Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic have been accused of accepting bribes. Stanford axed sailing coach John Vandemoer.

The University of Southern California fired a high-ranking athletic administrator and a head coach after they were indicted Tuesday for their alleged roles in a massive college admissions bribery scheme. Meanwhile, Stanford University ousted sailing coach John Vandemoer as part of the scheme. The terminations marked some of the first major repercussions of what the FBI is calling a “nationwide conspiracy.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, USC said it had terminated Donna Heinel, the school’s senior associate athletic director, and Jovan Vavic, the men’s and women’s water polo coach.

Heinel and Vavic have been accused of accepting bribes of more than $1.3 million and $250,000, respectively, to help students get into the elite private university by designating them as athletes.

“We understand that the government believes that illegal activity was carried out by individuals who went to great lengths to conceal their actions from the university,” the school said in a statement. “USC is conducting an internal investigation. Donna Heinel and Jovan Vavic have been terminated and the university will take additional employment actions as appropriate.”

The university also said it was “in the process of identifying any funds” it had received through the conspiracy and would be “reviewing its admissions processes broadly to ensure that such actions do not occur going forward.”

Dozens of administrators, coaches, celebrity parents and CEOs were charged in the FBI investigation on Tuesday, accused of engaging in a bribe scheme to secure students’ entrance into universities including Yale, Harvard, Georgetown and USC. Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among the parents who were indicted.

USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic celebrates after winning the Division I Men's Water Polo Championship on Dec. 2, 2018.
USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic celebrates after winning the Division I Men's Water Polo Championship on Dec. 2, 2018.

Vandemoer, the head coach of Stanford’s sailing team, allegedly accepted payments in exchange for recommending two students for the team. According to Stanford, neither of the students gained admission to the university, though school officials fired Vandemoer because his “behavior in the case runs completely counter to Stanford’s values.”

Parents involved in the scheme allegedly engaged in tactics like bribing entrance exam administrators, paying people to pose as their children during entrance exams and falsely claiming that their children had learning disabilities in order to allow them extra time on exams.

Some also bribed varsity coaches and administrators, such as Vavic and Heinel, to have their children accepted as student-athletes, regardless of their actual skills.

The daughter of former Wynn Resorts Chief Operating Officer Gamal Abdelaziz was accepted to USC on the premise of being a skilled basketball player but never joined the team, according to court documents. In other cases, students were said to be crew stars or tennis champions but never joined teams on campus.

Two other former USC coaches were also indicted: Ali Khosroshahin, who was fired from his post as women’s soccer coach in 2013, and Laura Janke, a former assistant coach who left the school in 2014. Khosroshahin and Janke allegedly received roughly $350,000 in payments routed through their private soccer club.

Vavic has 15 national coach of the year awards and led USC water polo teams to a combined 16 national championships. 

Carla Herreria contributed to this report.

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