Former tennis coach pays debt, theft case dismissed and expunged

Becky Campbell • Sep 10, 2018 at 5:29 PM

A theft case involving a former East Tennessee State University tennis coach was dismissed Monday after his attorney announced all demands of his client’s pre-trial diversion had been completed.

Defense attorney Don Spurrell told Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice on Monday that Yaser Zaatini had paid back money he was accused of skimming from the ETSU tennis program. Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle said the state would dismiss the case, and Rice issued the order.

Zaatini can have the case expunged, so there would be no public court record he was ever charged. The coach led the ETSU men’s tennis team to 10 consecutive conference championships and was accused of fraudulently submitting 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 a pretrial diversion hearing in June, Zaatini already had an agreement in place with ETSU to repay more than $31,000, and had been making payments since last year. At the time of that hearing, Zaatini still owed $20,000, but was in compliance with the agreement he reached with ETSU. Spurrell predicted Zaatini would have the debt repaid quickly and seemed pleased to announce Monday that it had happened.

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 Chairman David Golden, head of the body’s Audit Committee, said the 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.

After the hearing in June, Spurrell said that “once the debt is paid in full, the case is dismissed and the order of expungement entered.”

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