Orange County Water Polo Coach Convicted of Sex Assaults on 9 Girls

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SANTA ANA, Calif.—A well-known water polo coach has been convicted of sexual assaults on nine girls he coached and a misdemeanor assault on a 10th, according to verdicts announced Nov. 16.

Bahram Hojreh, 46, was convicted Tuesday of 22 felony counts including lewd or lascivious acts with a minor under 14, lewd acts on a child 14 or 15, sexual penetration by a foreign object of a minor, and sexual battery by fraud for nine victims. He was acquitted of sexually assaulting a 10th girl, but jurors convicted him of misdemeanor counts of simple assault in her case.

Jurors, who deliberated for about three days, reached their verdicts at the end of the day Tuesday, so they were read aloud Wednesday morning in court.

One woman supporting Hojreh in the courtroom became hysterical as the defendant, who was free on bail, was handcuffed by deputies and taken into custody. As the defendant’s group was leaving the court, one supporter looked over at the group supporting the victims and blurted out, “… all about the money,” prompting Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Menninger to warn that any more outbursts would lead to a finding of contempt of court.

Defense attorney John Barnett declined to comment following the verdicts. Hojreh is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 12.

Two of three more accusers, whose allegations did not lead to charges, testified in the trial.

“You’re going to hear abuse in this case of touching of breasts, twisting of nipples … pulling out public hairs, sexual penetration … and asking minor children to touch him while wearing a Speedo near his groin and other private areas,” Deputy District Attorney Raquel Cooper said in her opening statement of the trial.

Hojreh coached the teens on the International Water Polo team at the Joint Forces Training Base pool in Los Alamitos, “where most of the abuse occurred,” and at Kennedy High School in La Palma, Cooper said.

“It took place during one-on-one instruction in 2012 through the summer of 2017 and beginning of 2018,” Cooper said.

Hojreh started coaching at Kennedy in the summer of 2017, she said.

In the late fall of 2017 one accuser “became suspicious” that others were experiencing the same alleged abuse, so she donned goggles and watched Hojreh coaching another teen underwater, Cooper said.

The teen confronted her teammate after practice, and “She told her he’s doing it to me too,” Cooper alleged. The other teen, however, was reluctant to talk about it or report the alleged abuse, Cooper said.

Later that year in the winter, the original accuser told another classmate, but they didn’t know what to do, Cooper said. Their fellow classmate reached out to a family friend, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy, who advised him to tell his classmates they should talk to their parents, Cooper said.

One accuser said she did not want to graduate high school without having done anything about the issue, Cooper said, adding that the teens all agreed to tell their parents about the alleged abuse. Some of the other players were reluctant to come forward and did so in 2019, Cooper said.

USA Water Polo settled lawsuits regarding Hojreh for $13.85 million last year.

Prosecutors called psychologist Blake Carmichael to testify as an expert on “child sex abuse accommodation syndrome,” which explains why some victims delay reporting sex assaults.

“The power dynamics between abuser and abused in this case is significant,” Cooper said. “They believed the defendant was the one person who could help them compete. They had the aspirations to go on to Junior Olympics, to go to college and maybe even the Olympics … They were told college was a call away.”

The teens “believed they needed to endure abuse of defendant to succeed in water polo,” Cooper said.

Barnett said his client is a “famed water polo coach” who has coached the sport for 27 years in a career that included 10 national championships.

Hojreh was also a “staunch defender” of his team when some of its members were accused of inappropriate touching, Barnett said.

Barnett cast doubt on the allegations as he noted the practices were well attended by other coaches, lifeguards, and parents.

Some of the parents would even swim laps in the pool, Barnett said.

“So, by the way, while all this is happening the parents are doing laps in the pool,” he said. “Three of the parents are law enforcement officers.”

He added, “Nobody said anything for five years, six years, eight years.”

Barnett said several accusers came up with various excuses to explain how they could not provide any text messages among themselves.

“The dog ate the homework,” he said. “These girls played as a team, they lost their phones as a team, and they got paid $14 million as a team … What they accused him of is false.”

City News Service

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