Orange County water polo coach takes stand, denies sex abuse allegations – Orange County Register

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A prominent local water polo coach described allegations that he sexually abused a dozen of his former players as being part of a “conspiracy,” denying during testimony this week that he ever inappropriately touched the then-teenage girls.

Bahram Hojreh — a 46-year-old former club and high school water polo coach and Irvine resident — flatly denied during testimony in Orange County Superior Court on Tuesday and Wednesday that he is guilty of the two-dozen felony charges he is facing, which include sexual battery, sexual penetration and lewd acts on a minor.

Over the course of the past month, a dozen young women have taken the stand in a Santa Ana courtroom to accuse Hojreh of underwater touching of their breasts and twisting of their nipples, the touching of their genitals above and then below their swimsuits and digital penetration, which they allege occurred during one-on-one training sessions during practices primarily held at the Olympic-size pool at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.

Hojreh’s attorney, John Barnett, has accused the young women of fabricating the allegations, asking them during their testimony if the potential for a civil lawsuit and large monetary payout motivated them to point the finger at Hojreh. The defense attorney also has repeatedly questioned how such alleged abuse could have occurred in public practices attended by other players, coaches, lifeguards and parents.

“I was shocked, I was confused, (I thought) ‘What is going on here,’” Hojreh said of his reaction to the allegations.

During his testimony, Hojreh told jurors that due to the leg motions required for players and coaches to tread water and remain above water, he could not have touched his female players as they described or reached under their swimsuits.

The young women previously testified that they trusted Hojreh and believed him to be key to their college ambitions. Most said they were uncomfortable with the alleged contact by the former coach, but explained that he made them believe he was “toughening them up” for the type of contact he allegedly claimed they could expect from opposing players at the college level.

In late 2017, the girls — who ranged in age from 14 to 17 years old at the time — began to confide in one another, they testified. Some spoke to their parents about the allegations in early 2018, and police were quickly notified.

Deputy District Attorney Raquel Cooper during often-pointed questioning pressed Hojreh about why he believed so many players who considered him a respected mentor would suddenly make up stories of abuse.

“You believe there is some big conspiracy against you and that is why you are here today?” Cooper asked.

“Conspiracy? Yes. Against me? I’m not sure,” Hojreh responded. “I don’t believe the conspiracy is necessarily against me with these girls. But I believe there is a conspiracy.”

“They like you, they respect you and look up to you, their parents respect you and out of nowhere they conspire against you?” the prosecutor said.

“I don’t think all of them liked me,” the coach said.

“What did you do to get all of them to hate you so much that five years later they come into court and have to testify against you,” the prosecutor responded, drawing a quick objection from the defense.

Much of the back and forth between the prosecutor and the former coach centered on a phone call detectives recorded between Hojreh and one of his accusers.

Cooper noted that nearly a dozen times during the recorded call the girl accused Hojreh of inserting his fingers into her vagina, and at no point during the conversation did he deny the allegation.

“I never did that,” Hojreh said from the stand, denying the sexual abuse.

“You’ve had five years time to think about it and remember,” Cooper said.

“I did not do it,” Hojreh said.

Hojreh said he was worried about directly confronting the girl during the call, saying he believed she was in a fragile mental state.

“I was afraid something tragic would happen to her,” Hojreh testified in response to a question about the call from his own attorney.

“Did you feel you could confront her and tell her how you really felt?” Barnett asked.

“No,” the coach responded.

Hojreh testified that he previously told his players to come forward and report to authorities if they were a victim of sexual abuse, following the earlier arrests of Coleman Pickell — an University High School water polo coach who was convicted of having  sex with a student — and of Josh Owens — a Kennedy High School water polo coach who admitted to sexually assaulting three students.

Some of Hojreh’s accusers knew players who had been sexually abused by Owens, and were aware that victims in that case had received a nearly $8 million settlement from the Anaheim Union High School District, Hojreh’s attorney has noted during his trial.

Some of Hojreh’s players were themselves accused of inappropriately touching opposing players during matches in July 2017, allegations that led to two girls being suspended, according to testimony during the trial. Hojreh’s attorney has referenced that incident to argue the players would have known that such conduct was not acceptable in water polo.

Along with running and coaching his own club team — the International Water Polo Club in Los Alamitos — Hojreh was also coaching at Kennedy High School shortly before his arrest. He has since been banned for life from participating in events affiliated with USA Water Polo, the sport’s national governing body.

USA Water Polo already has agreed to a $13.85 million settlement with Hojreh’s accusers. Other civil lawsuits allege he sexually abused players while coaching at Kennedy High School and University High School.

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