Former Compton Dominguez High basketball coach Russell Otis paid thousands of dollars in cash to cover his team's expenses to travel and play in tournaments, witnesses testified during a hearing Thursday.
The testimony came during the third day of a preliminary hearing for the highly successful former coach, who is accused of stealing $15,000 intended for his team and of the attempted molestation of a player, now 17.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gary Hahn is expected to decide today whether prosecutors have presented enough evidence to support a criminal trial.
Otis contends that he had the authorization of the high school's principal to deposit a $15,000 Nike sponsorship check into his personal account and that he spent the money on activities and supplies for his team.
Derrick Cooper, who runs tournaments and summer leagues for high school players, said Otis has paid him more than $5,000 in entry fees for the Dominguez team.
Each time he paid in cash, Cooper said.
Jeff Ballinger, a middle school teacher who said he runs a part-time business selling Southwest Airlines employees' complimentary passes, said Otis paid him about $4,000 in cash for airline vouchers that Dominguez players used to travel to tournaments.
Otis has coached Dominguez to 10 Southern Section and six state championships, turning the program into one of the nation's elite.
The Compton Unified School District fired him earlier this month.
Defense attorney Leonard Levine said the molestation and theft charges are baseless.
"Russell Otis was authorized to take that check and use it for basketball expenses and that's exactly what he did," Levine said after testimony concluded at the Compton courthouse.
"All he's done is bring that program great fame and many championships. And this is his thanks."
Prosecutors allege that Otis, acting with the assistance of Ernie Carr, the Compton district's former athletic director, forged the signature of Dominguez Principal Garry Roberson to steal the Nike money.
On Monday, Roberson testified he did not recall writing or signing the letter and he did not endorse the check or give Otis permission to deposit the funds into the coach's personal account.
Otis is also charged with one felony count and one misdemeanor for reportedly offering to pay a player to engage in a sex act with him.
Otis was acquitted on charges that he molested a player in 2000.