A prominent water polo coach exploited teenage girls’ college and Olympic dreams to sexually abuse them for six years, prosecutors told an Orange County Superior Court jury Monday, Oct. 3.
As Bahram Hojreh’s trial began in a Santa Ana courtroom, the attorney for the former coach of the International Water Polo Club, an Orange County organization, denied reports by 13 players of sexual abuse, which prosecutors say took place during practice at the Olympic Stadium . Swimming pools at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos by 2018.
Hojreh — a 46-year-old Irvine resident who also trained at Kennedy High School shortly before his arrest — is on trial for two dozen felonies, including sexual assault, sexual penetration and lewd acts against a minor. USA Water Polo, the sport’s national governing body, had previously agreed a $13.85 million settlement with at least some of the sexual assault allegations, and Hojreh was banned for life from attending USA Water Polo events.
During Monday’s opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Raquel Cooper told jurors that the club’s players – who were generally aged 14 to 17 – were committed to water polo, played at a very high level and viewed Hojreh as the person who held the keys to held her college and Olympic ambitions.
“They believed the defendant was the only person who could help them succeed at water polo,” Cooper said. “The victims honestly and sincerely believed that in order to be successful at water polo, they had to endure the abuse at the hands of the defendant.”
Among the sex abuse prosecutors that took place one-on-one during the drills were breast and genital touching, digital penetration, and forcing players to touch his genitals.
Defense attorney John Barnett flatly denied the allegations, questioning how what he estimates to be more than 400 alleged incidents of sexual abuse at public practices attended by dozens of players, coaches and parents went unnoticed. Barnett said the girls knew how to report such abuse after seeing another Kennedy coach, Josh Owens, arrested for sexually abusing athletes.
“He’s not in control of them, he’s not Svengali,” Barnett said of Hojreh. “You know a call and he’s out of the pool and in cuffs. … You have the power, not him.”
Prosecutors allege that some of the girls began to confide in each other after one put on goggles during a club training session – allowing her to see Hojreh harassing another player underwater – confirming their suspicions that she was not the only victim . Some of the girls reached out to adults, first through a friend whose father worked in law enforcement, and then through parents.
“Guys we have to do this and I’m serious,” one of the girls wrote of Hojreh’s ad in a Snapchat group message shown to the judges. “I don’t think talking to him in person or writing him a letter will help. … When I leave this place, I want to make sure I’ve at least tried to stop it.”
When detectives began interviewing the athletes — and when their parents began asking their children about the coach — some of the girls initially denied any abuse before later disclosing it, prosecutors said.
A criminal complaint was filed against Hojreh in April 2018 with seven alleged victims. Three other alleged victims later came forward and were added to the criminal complaint. Another three players are expected to testify during the trial about alleged abuse by Hojreh but are not directly linked to the criminal charges.
Barnett described Hojreh as a famous water polo coach who has spent more than 25 years in the sport and has coached thousands of athletes. The defense told the jury that while most sex offenders commit their crimes in secret, Hojreh allegedly sexually abused the girls in a public setting at a military base.
Barnett said the girls were aware of players who had been sexually abused by Owens, the other former Kennedy coach, and knew the victims in that case were receiving nearly $8 million in settlements from the Anaheim Union High School District had received. Hojreh prosecutors have already received the $14 million settlement, the defense attorney pointed out.
And the defense attorney cited “missing” texts between the players as they discussed making the allegations.
The process is expected to take several weeks and will involve testimonies from multiple players and parents.
In addition to the criminal and civil lawsuits, the sexual abuse allegations against Hojreh have also prompted former Olympic medalists and athlete safety advocates to urge congressional leaders to overhaul the game of water polo in the United States. The organization’s leaders have denied any wrongdoing and described that the multimillion-dollar settlement was pushed by their insurance carrier.
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/03/prominent-oc-water-polo-coach-accused-of-sexual-abuse-took-advantage-of-players-dreams-prosecutor-says/ Prominent OC water polo coach charged with sex abuse exploited player’s dreams, prosecutors say – Orange County Register