A prominent Orange County water polo coach was convicted of nearly two dozen felonies after a five-week trial on Wednesday, Nov. 16, when a dozen women accused him of sexually assaulting them during individual sessions in public practices that were teens.
An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated a little less than three days before finding Bahram Hojreh guilty of 22 felony counts involving nine victims, ages 14 to 17, with the jury also finding that Hojreh abused his position of trust .
Hojreh showed no apparent reaction to the verdicts, which the jury returned late Tuesday and were read out Wednesday morning in a Santa Ana courtroom. In the audience was a group of 15 victims and parents, as well as a dozen family members and supporters of Hojreh.
The former coach, who remained at large during the trial, was taken into custody following the verdicts by bailiffs. As Hojreh was handcuffed, an elderly relative began screaming uncontrollably. It took bailiffs and family members several minutes to get her out of the courtroom as she continued to wail.
Crimes included sexual assault, sexual penetration, and underage lewd acts committed on girls. The jury also found Hojreh guilty of misdemeanor assault against a tenth woman, but acquitted him of a charge of indecent assault linked to the same victim.
Two other women testified against Hojreh during his trial, accusing him of sexually abusing them, but their allegations were not part of the official indictment in the case.
The conviction spells a serious downfall for Hojreh, a 46-year-old Irvine resident and noted club and high school coach who, by his own estimation, coached more than 100 All Americans and developed more than 40 members who made and led the national team at least 10 teams to national championships.
Hojreh – who ran the International Water Polo Club in Los Alamitos and taught at Kennedy High School shortly before his arrest – had already been banned for life from participating in events associated with USA Water Polo, the sport’s national governing body.
Over the course of a month, a dozen women have taken a stand in a Santa Ana courtroom to say Hojreh abused them by underwater touching their breasts and twisting their nipples, touching their genitals above and below their bathing suits, and digitally penetrating. The women said the sexual abuse took place during one-on-one training sessions during drills, which were primarily held in the Olympic-size swimming pool at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.
Hojreh denied the criminal charges and described his former athletes as part of a “conspiracy” against him, with his defense attorney directly accusing the women of lying and fabricating the allegations. Hojreh’s lawyer repeatedly asked the women if the prospect of a civil lawsuit and a large monetary payment made them point the finger at their former coach, and questioned how such abuse occurred in public practices near other players, coaches , lifeguards and parents could have taken place.
Testimony at Hojreh’s trial shed light on the dark side of Orange County’s water polo scene, which has long served as a hotbed for talent in the sport. In addition to the allegations against Hojreh, the trial included many references to Josh Owens, a former Kennedy High School water polo coach, and Coleman Pickell, a former University High School coach, both convicted of sex with students in recent years.
And some of the Prosecutors’ teammates, who played for Hojreh’s team, were themselves accused of improperly reaching under their swimsuits during Junior Olympics qualifiers in the summer of 2017.
Assistant District Attorney Raquel Cooper said Hojreh abused the trust and respect shown to him not only by his players but also by their parents.
“Every single one of them wanted to play in the Junior Olympiads, play in college, maybe play in the Olympics one day,” the prosecutor said. “And he was the one who told them he could take them there. He knew his players naturally trusted him. He knew these teenagers knew he was the key to getting them into college. And he took advantage of that.”
In often emotional statements, the women described the man, whom many still referred to as “Coach Bahram,” who convinced them that the sexual contact was meant to “toughen them up” for the kind of game they could supposedly expect from opposing players at the higher level athletic level.
Accusers began to confide in late 2017 and reached out to adults and law enforcement in early 2018, most later saying they wanted to make sure younger players weren’t subjected to the same behavior.
“He tricked these girls into believing his abuse had a legitimate purpose in water polo and they endured it for months and years,” the prosecutor told jurors.
In a police-recorded conversation between a player and Hojreh, the girl accused Hojreh of inserting his fingers into her vagina nearly a dozen times, and the coach did not deny the allegations during the conversation. During his testimony, Hojreh said he believes the girl is in a fragile state of mind and that he is afraid to confront her directly.
Hojreh’s attorney, John Barnett, questioned why the girls hadn’t discussed the alleged abuse earlier, even though they believed it was an uncomfortable part of their training.
Some of Hojreh’s accusers were aware of players who had been sexually abused by Owens, former Kennedy High School assistant water polo coach, and who received nearly $8 million in settlements from the Anaheim Union High School District, Barnett noted during of the process. The defense attorney argued that the arrest and release of Owens showed the girls exactly what power they had when dealing with an abuser.
“They had a surefire way of getting rid of the beast,” Barnett argued. “They could prevent the beast from attacking them in the pool the next day.
Hojreh was ordered to return to court for sentencing on January 12.
In addition to the criminal charges, the allegations surrounding Hojreh led to several civil lawsuits. USA Water Polo has already settled a nearly $14 million settlement with the women, while other civil suits allege that he sexually abused players while coaching at Kennedy High School and University High School.
The allegations of sexual abuse also prompted former Olympic medalists and athlete safety advocates to speak out and urge congressional leaders to overhaul the game of water polo in the United States. The organization has previously denied wrongdoing and said the multi-million dollar settlement with Hojreh’s accusers was pushed by their insurance carrier.
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/11/16/prominent-orange-county-water-polo-coach-convicted-of-sexually-abusing-teenage-players/ Prominent Orange County water polo coach convicted of sexually abusing 9 teenagers – Orange County Register