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Disgraced coach could provide key details of USC’s role in college admissions scandal

Disgraced coach could provide key details of USC’s role in college admissions scandal
Students walk between classes at the USC campus. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

From the beginning, USC has played a central role in the college admissions scandal.

This week, there were new signs that federal prosecutors are continuing to burrow into the university’s role. They announced that a former soccer coach was cooperating with their investigation, and that could provide a better sense of what exactly happened.

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Five former USC employees, including a senior administrator, have been indicted on racketeering charges. Of the 19 parents charged with fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, 13 are accused of paying six-figure sums to have their children slipped into USC as bogus athletic recruits. One of them is a former USC professor. All 19 have pleaded not guilty.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts said Tuesday that Laura Janke, a former assistant women’s soccer coach at USC, will plead guilty and cooperate with investigators. Janke signed a formal cooperation deal, signaling that prosecutors believe she has offered, or will offer, information they can use to buttress their current cases or build new ones.

Janke’s attorney, Stephen Huggard, declined to comment.

Who is Laura Janke?

Janke, 36, is a Thousand Oaks native who played soccer at Cal State Fullerton for coach Ali Khosroshahin, her future boss and co-defendant. Khosroshahin, who coached the USC women’s soccer team from 2007 to 2013, is accused of facilitating bribes from the admissions scheme’s confessed mastermind, Newport Beach college consultant William “Rick” Singer, to the coaches Singer allegedly kept on his payroll.

Khosroshahin has been indicted on a racketeering charge. He has pleaded not guilty.

After graduating from Cal State Fullerton in 2003, Janke, a star goalkeeper, stayed on at the Orange County school as Khosroshahin’s assistant coach. She followed him to USC when he took charge of the women’s soccer program in 2007.

Janke left USC not long after Khosroshahin was fired in 2013. Most recently, she led the girls’ soccer program at the Geffen Academy at UCLA, a college prep school affiliated with the public university.

To hear prosecutors tell it, Janke fashioned bogus recruiting profiles for the children of Singer’s clients, stocked with fake accolades and pictures doctored with PhotoShop, which Singer’s associates then submitted to admissions committees. She reaped roughly $134,000 in return, prosecutors say, which she must forfeit under her plea deal.

How does USC figure into the scandal?

USC, like every other university entangled in the investigation, has called itself the victim of a scam orchestrated by a conman and a few rogue coaches. USC fired both employees who were still working at the school when the indictments were unsealed: Jovan Vavic, its legendary water polo coach, and Donna Heinel, the third-ranking official in the athletics department.

Along with Vavic, Heinel, Khosroshahin and Janke, Bill Ferguson — the men’s volleyball coach at USC from 2007 to 2015 — was accused of pocketing bribes from Singer in exchange for recruiting the children of his clients, and indicted on a racketeering charge.

Prosecutors allege Ferguson was bribed not during his tenure at USC, but at Wake Forest, where he has been placed on leave as head of the women’s volleyball program.

Vavic, Heinel, Khosroshahin and Ferguson have all pleaded not guilty.

Homayoun Zadeh, a longtime professor at USC’s dental school and chair of its periodontology department, has also been implicated in the scheme.

Zadeh is accused of paying $100,000 to ensure his daughter was admitted to USC as a recruited lacrosse player. In truth, prosecutors say, the professor’s daughter was a cheerleader and had never played lacrosse competitively.

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USC began termination proceedings against Zadeh the day he was arrested and charged with fraud conspiracy. Zadeh now faces an additional charge of money laundering conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty.

What has been USC’s response?

In a letter sent Wednesday evening to the university community, interim President Wanda Austin said USC had “greatly strengthened” its vetting of prospective student-athletes.

Before an application is forwarded to the admissions staff, each prospective recruit for a particular team would be scrutinized by the head coach, the senior sports administrator overseeing the team and the school’s Office of Athletics Compliance, Austin said.

Austin also promised an audit of athletic rosters at the beginning and end of every academic year, and to cross-check rosters with lists of admitted students.

In Singer’s recruiting scheme, as described in charging documents filed in federal court, he paid coaches and an administrator to present the children of his clients to a USC admissions committee as student athletes. After being admitted as recruited athletes, the children dropped off their teams’ rosters by the time they matriculated, or soon after.

The children of Singer’s clients were purportedly recruited to USC to compete in basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, track and field, water polo, lacrosse and crew.

Toby MacFarlane, a Del Mar title insurance executive, allegedly paid $250,000 to guarantee his son, who is 5-foot-5, a slot at USC as a recruited basketball player. Three years earlier, prosecutors say, he paid the same sum to have his daughter admitted as a soccer recruit.

MacFarlane said Tuesday he would plead guilty to a fraud conspiracy charge.

Who is under investigation at USC?

Two investigations are underway at USC: a criminal investigation led by the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which unearthed Singer’s scheme and is continuing to probe the extent of his fraud, and an internal investigation, led by USC’s Office of Professionalism and Ethics.

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Austin, the university’s president, said Wednesday that USC was continuing to cooperate with the government’s investigation. Federal prosecutors from Boston were in Los Angeles last week, questioning witnesses about students whose parents have not yet been charged, The Times previously reported.

Janke, the former USC soccer coach, could prove a key witness for the government, having spent seven years at the school and at least six years as part of Singer’s scheme, according to court documents.

Under federal sentencing guidelines and the terms of her plea deal, Janke faces between 27 and 33 months in prison. Prosecutors said they would recommend a sentence at the low end of that range. If they decide Janke provided useful and credible information, they can recommend she receive a sentence even below that range.

USC is reviewing the cases of students tied to the scandal, and Austin said Wednesday that most of those students had sat for initial interviews. The outcomes of those reviews could range from no action to revocation of a student’s admission, depending on the facts of each case, Austin said.

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