ETSU audit alleges former tennis coach Yaser Zaatini defrauded university of more than $100K

UPDATE:  5:12 p.m. — The investigation report completed by East Tennessee State University auditors in connection to the Yaser Zaatini case outlines four state laws the former tennis coach may have violated. ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland said he is “extremely disappointed” about the allegations involving the Hall of Famer.

“It’s an audit that tells a story very different than the story that many of us had come to know of Coach Zaatini,” he said.

The investigation concluded ETSU reimbursed the coach for expenses “supported by fabricated, forged, and/or altered documentation.” Auditors said the documents were linked to meal expenses for both home and away games, racquet stringing receipts, registration fees and other miscellaneous expenditures.”

“Questioned costs related to these expenses totaled $85,674.61,” the report said. “In addition, unreported annual leave valued at $20,747.63 was discovered.”

Dr. Noland says the university is making changes moving forward in hopes of preventing future problems, including mandated random audits of all coaches.

“In any situation that’s sad and unfortunate, something good can emerge and I think the good thing is we’re going to make the university more accountable than we were in the past,” Dr. Noland said.

ETSU provided First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark with a copy of its findings today. The 37-page report suggests Zaatini may have violated four state laws, including theft of property, forgery and official misconduct. Clark said he has yet to review the report.

Audit Committee Chairman David Golden said Zaatini was able to take the money using a sophisticated scheme over a long period of time.

“A little bit over time kind of adds up to a lot,” he said. “Almost like a thread on a sweater, if you’ve ever had one of those where you start pulling on it, before you know it, there’s a pretty big hole in your sweater.”

In a statement released earlier today by Zaatini’s attorney, the former tennis coach said eventually he’ll “fully explain the coaching and budgetary decisions he made during his tenure.”

“Yaser Zaatini is a two-time All American at ETSU, his alma mater, and dedicated himself to recruiting and cultivating players from around the world to bring home 15 conference tennis championships to ETSU as head tennis coach,” attorney Don Spurrell said. “His determination to field championship caliber teams made the financial management of such a challenge extremely difficult. Yaser appreciates the support of the East Tennessee State community and at the appropriate time he will fully explain the coaching and budgetary decisions he made during his tenure.”

Golden says it’s important to remember the university caught the scheme and has reacted appropriately to add tighter controls. Athletic Director Dr. Dick Sander says moving forward, the athletic department is going to use a checklist every time a document is turned in and also, limit the amount of cash used by coaches.

Dr. Sander says concerns from student athletes, who received $20 for meals while in the area, prompted the audit.

“Basically, this is to make a long story short, when we went to look at the document, it showed that they had gotten $50 and their names looked kind of forged,” Dr. Sander said. “As soon as we saw that we saw that it was something fishy.”

Golden confirms the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury is in the midst of an investigative audit regarding this situation too.

Zaatini previously promised to pay back some of the questioned costs.

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BREAKING NEWS: News Channel 11’s Nate Morabito learned Friday that an audit by East Tennessee State University showed that the former head tennis coach allegedly defrauded the university of more than $100,000.

ETSU audit found Yaser Zaatini defrauded university of $85,000 through falsified travel invoices, receipts, fees and registrations. In addition, concluded he abused the university’s vacation policy by more than $20,000. The fraud, waste and abuse dates back to 2010, according to the audit.

News Channel 11 Community Watchdog, Nate Morabito, will continue to bring you new developments on air and on wjhl.com.


JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University’s Board of Trustees will hear the results of the university’s audit involving former tennis coach Yaser Zaatini this afternoon, according to Audit Committee Chairman David Golden.

Following Friday morning’s Audit Committee meeting, which included an executive session, Golden confirmed the audit is now closed and the findings will be released publicly later in the day.

Zaatini resigned abruptly in March with no explanation, but public records revealed he agreed to pay ETSU $31,000 over three years. Zaatini said his resignation was “no admission of malfeasance.”

ETSU officials previously notified the district attorney about the investigation, but First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark said in May he had not requested a criminal investigation.

Ahead of today’s announcement, Zaatini’s attorney Don Spurrell released a statement to us on behalf of the former tennis coach:

“Yaser Zaatini is a two-time All American at ETSU, his alma mater, and dedicated himself to recruiting and cultivating players from around the world to bring home 15 conference tennis championships to ETSU as head tennis coach. His determination to field championship caliber teams made the financial management of such a challenge extremely difficult. Yaser appreciates the support of the East Tennessee State community and at the appropriate time he will fully explain the coaching and budgetary decisions he made during his tenure.”

Spurrell confirms it is his understanding the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury has performed an audit as well.

“The Comptroller’s Office has broad authority to review Tennessee’s public universities,” Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Public Information Officer John Dunn said. “It is our policy not to comment further.”

We’ll provide updates to this story as more details are released throughout the day.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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