Orange County water polo coach gets more than 18 years in prison for sexually abusing teenagers – Orange County Register
A prominent Orange County water polo coach was sentenced Friday to 18 years and four months in prison for nearly two-dozen felonies after several women accused him of taking advantage of their trust and sexually assaulting them during one-on-one sessions in public practices while they were teenagers.
Seventeen former players and parents spoke out against Bahram Hojreh during an often-emotional hearing Friday, describing him as an arrogant and manipulative man whose larger-than-life persona and revered status within the sport of water polo masked years of sexual abuse.
“I was abused by this man who had my future in his hands and used my dreams to hurt me.” one of the women said as she struggled to hold back emotion. “I’ve waited years for this day to come, and I’ve also dreaded for this day to come”
Some of the women said the abuse they endured destroyed their love of water polo and left them traumatized and unable to trust those around them.
“You truly destroyed the light in that 14-year-old girl when she needed it the most,” one of the women said to Hojreh.
Some of his former players said Hojreh referred to himself as the “God of Water Polo,” and tried to excuse the sexual abuse by claiming the physical contact with the teen girls came during legitimate water polo techniques. If they wanted to win, they needed to learn to play dirty, one of the victims recalled Hojreh telling her.
“He talked about himself like he was a god, that if we didn’t learn from him we wouldn’t learn anywhere,” one of the women said. “Men like this, they don’t change. They affect lives, they affect my life, they are selfish and don’t care about anything but pleasing themselves.”
Several parents said they welcomed Hojreh into their families and still struggled with regret at trusting him with their children or learning that their daughters were being abused at practices they had attended. Like the former players, the parents urged that Hojreh be sentenced to the maximum possible sentence.
“I’m so proud of them for standing up to you, the monster they were so afraid of the last five years,” one of the women’s fathers said to Hojreh. “You are a liar and a child molester and I hope you never get out.”
Hojreh stared ahead during most of the victim impacts statements that stretched over several hours, only occasionally glancing back toward the speakers or shaking his head slightly.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Menninger denied a request by John Barnett, Hojreh’s attorney, to allow several people to speak on Hojreh’s behalf. The judge said she would only listen to Hojreh himself.
During brief remarks, the former coach thanked court staff, his attorney, his friends and his family. He made no mention during his comments of his former players, his accusers or their families.
“They found the truth to my innocence and provided it,” Hojreh said of his supporters.
Hojreh had faced a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. But recent changes in state law have set a higher bar to reach the “aggravated factors” required for a maximum sentence in such a case, and in handing down the 18 year, four-month sentence Judge Menninger said a longer sentence would risk being overturned on appeal.
The former coach will also be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Hojreh, a 46-year-old Irvine resident, was well known for his coaching success in the Southern California water polo scene, which has long served as the epicenter of the sport. A long-time club and high school coach, Hojreh, by his own estimates, trained more than 100 All-Americans, developed more than 40 members who made the national team and led at least 10 teams to national championships.
At the time of his arrest, Hojreh was running the International Water Polo Club in Los Alamitos and was coaching at Kennedy High School. He has since been banned for life from participating in events affiliated with USA Water Polo, the sport’s national governing body.
The dozen women who testified during his trial described Hojreh abusing them with underwater touching of their breasts and twisting of their nipples, touching their genitals above and below their swimsuits and digital penetration. The sexual abuse occurred during one-on-one sessions between Hojreh and the then-teens while their teammates were busy practicing drills, mainly at the Olympic-size pool at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.
Deputy District Attorney Raquel Cooper told jurors that the players believed Hojreh, through his connections in the sport, held the key to playing in the junior Olympics, to getting into colleges and possibly to playing in the Olympics. The women said they initially believed the man many still referred to during the trial as “Coach Bahram” when he told them the sexual contact was meant to “toughen them up” for the more physical play he claimed they could expect from opposing players at higher levels in the sport.
The players began to confide in one another by late 2017, however, and in early 2018 spoke to parents, and soon, law enforcement. Most testified that they came forward to report the sexual abuse because they didn’t want younger players to be subjected to the same conduct.
Hojreh testified that his former players were part of a “conspiracy” against him, and his attorney accused the women of lying, repeatedly questioning whether they were motivated by a potential monetary payout from a civil lawsuit. The defense attorney questioned how such abuse could have taken place in public practices where other players, coaches, lifeguards and parents were present.
An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for a little less than three days in November before finding Hojreh guilty of 22 felony counts — including sexual battery, sexual penetration and lewd acts on a minor — related to nine victims who were 14 to 17 years old at the time. The jury also found him guilty of a misdemeanor count of simple assault against a 10th woman.
Two other women also accused Hojreh of sexual assault during courtroom testimony, but their allegations were not part of the official criminal charges. The jury did formally find that Hojreh had taken advantage of a position of trust when committing the crimes.
Hojreh is the latest — and most high-profile — figure in the local water polo scene to face criminal charges. Josh Owens — a former Kennedy High School water polo coach — and Coleman Pickell — a former University High School coach — were both convicted in recent years of having sex with students.
USA Water Polo — which was accused of allowing Hojreh to continue to coach despite reports of sexual assault related to his club team — already has reached a settlement with Hojreh’s victims, agreeing to pay them nearly $14 million dollars. Other civil lawsuits — alleging that Hojreh sexually abused players while serving as a walk-on coach at Kennedy High School and University High School — are still active.