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Former tennis coach granted pretrial diversion in theft case

Becky Campbell • Updated Jun 28, 2018 at 11:29 AM

The former East Tennessee State University tennis coach charged with theft and forgery related to inflated and false expense reports received pretrial diversion Wednesday in Washington County Criminal Court.

Yaser Zaatini, who led the ETSU men’s tennis team to 10 consecutive conference championships, was alleged to have submitted meal and travel expenses to the school for reimbursement that was supposed to be repaid to players.

According to an audit of the program, the discrepancies in the amounts Zaatini reported providing athletes for meal expenses were discovered after two students asked an NCAA compliance director about the cash they received for meals.

Providing athletes with money for meals is not against any rules or regulations, but staff realized the tennis coach was receiving petty cash from the university for one amount, giving students less and keeping the difference.

Auditors said Zaatini copied students’ signatures from forms previously signed by the students or by copying them from a computer file. Investigators said most athletes said they never signed any documents when receiving meal money.

The audit report claims the coach over-collected $51,683 from the university for meal reimbursement. Auditors claimed Zaatini over-collected $17,881 for fees related to restringing tennis racquets by forging receipts from schools where the teams played. When a string on a racquet breaks, which routinely happens during play at the collegiate level, the racquet must be restrung.

Before the hearing Wednesday, Zaatini already had an agreement in place with ETSU to repay more than $31,000, and has been making payments since last year. Zaatini’s attorney, Don Spurrell, said Wednesday that his client still owes $20,000, but is in compliance with the agreement he reached with ETSU.

Zaatini resigned from his coaching job at the university in March 2017 after an audit documented more than $100,000 in misappropriated funds. In his resignation letter to ETSU President Brian Noland, Zaatini included a promissory note stating he would repay the university $31,293.13. He and the university apparently negotiated that amount for Zaatini to pay.

Last year, ETSU Board of Trustees Vice Chair David Golden, head of the body’s Audit Committee, said the hall-of-fame coach was engaged in a “fairly sophisticated” scheme to forge student-athletes’ signatures on meal expenditure forms and print phony receipts for restringing tennis racquets to be reimbursed for the costs.

Tracing suspect transactions as far back as 2010, the university’s audit team estimated $85,674.61 in questionable expenses related to meals, racquet stringing, registration fees and other expenditures. Auditors also tallied $20,747.63 in unreported annual leave they called into question.

As long as Zaatini doesn’t get into any further legal trouble and stays in compliance with his payment plan, the case will be dismissed when the bill is paid in full.

“He owes 20,000 and he expects to be able to pay the debt early,” Spurrell said after the hearing. “Once the debt is paid in full, the case is dismissed and the order of expungement entered. The impact of this agreement is that if and when Mr. Zaatini is able to pay off the note payable to ETSU, the criminal charges against him will be dismissed with prejudice and expunged. The case presented a difficult and complex set of circumstances for Mr. Zaatini and his family. He met all of the criteria to qualify for pretrial diversion. And this outcome brings closure and justice to this case.”

Zaatini still lives in Johnson City but works in Florida and North Carolina, according to Spurrell.

CORRECTION: Former East Tennessee State University tennis coach Yaser Zaatini was granted pretrial diversion Wednesday in Washington County Criminal Court. An earlier version of story incorrectly stated that Zaatini pleaded guilty and received judicial diversion.

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