(AP / FOX 11) - A coach who ran a club affiliated with USA Water Polo has been charged with the sexual abuse of seven underage female players during one-on-one coaching sessions, prosecutors said Wednesday, the latest instance of mentors of young athletes being accused of misconduct.
Bahram Hojreh, 42, pleaded not guilty to charges including sexual battery, lewd acts upon a child, and sexual penetration by foreign object of a minor, according to a filing this week in Orange County Superior Court.
His attorney, Ricardo Nicol, told The Associated Press that Hojreh never had a blemish on his record after working with hundreds of children over two decades.
The victims were underage female water polo players and the alleged crimes occurred between 2014 and January of this year, the Orange County district attorney's office said. Four of the girls were 15 or younger, prosecutors said.
At least two players reported the assaults to their parents, who contacted authorities, prosecutors said. Hojreh is accused of touching the girls' breasts and genitals, penetrating them with his fingers and coercing them to touch his genitals, officials said.
Authorities were searching for additional possible victims.
The International Water Polo Club was removed from using the pool at a joint military base in Los Alamitos after police informed base officials in January that they were investigating allegations involving "sexual misconduct" against Hojreh, said Col. Richard Lalor, a spokesman for the base.
Hojreh touts himself as a coach for nearly a quarter-century who has "helped develop multiple Olympians." Until January he served on the board of directors for the local Southern California chapter of USA Water Polo, the governing body for water polo in the United States.
Hojreh was suspended from the regional board and had his membership in the national organization revoked as soon as the allegations against him came to light at the beginning of the year, said Christopher Ramsey, the CEO of USA Water Polo.
"USA Water Polo has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct," Ramsey said in a statement Wednesday.
Molestation scandals involving young victims have recently rocked USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics. Larry Nassar, a doctor for the gymnastics national team, was sentenced in January after pleading guilty to the sexual assault of minors.
In February, the Southern California News Group found that USA Swimming repeatedly balked at overhauling a culture in which "the sexual abuse of underage swimmers by their coaches and others in positions of power within the sport was commonplace and even accepted by top officials and coaches," resulting in hundreds of young victims.
Hojreh appeared Wednesday in Superior Court and was released on $250,000 bond. He was ordered to appear for a pretrial hearing on June 14, the district attorney's office said.
He was a water polo coach at University High School in Irvine, but his employment ended in March 2017, said Annie Brown, a spokeswoman for the Irvine Unified School District.
Citing confidentiality laws, Brown declined to provide additional information about the circumstances surrounding Hojreh's employment, but said there were no reports to school officials of sexual misconduct involving the coach.
Hojreh had also coached at Kennedy High School in Anaheim, but district officials declined to provide any information about his employment. Hojreh's name was removed from the school's website after the AP inquired about his employment status.
The International Water Polo Club was registered as a nonprofit organization, but did not register with the California attorney general's office. After inquiries from The Associated Press, the attorney general's office sent a letter to Hojreh warning him that his organization was "both unregistered and, consequentially, delinquent for past filings."
Hojreh, who graduated from the University of California, Irvine, was a member of the Men's NCAA Division 1 water polo team from 1994 to 1998.