Former East Tennessee State University tennis coach Yaser Zaatini entered a not guilty plea related to 23 felony counts during his first court appearance Monday.
A Washington County grand jury indicted Zaatini on a charge of theft and 22 counts of forgery last year, after an investigation by ETSU and the state revealed he misappropriated more than $45,000 during a six-year period. Auditors concluded Zaatini misappropriated much of that money by turning in forged team meal per diem forms and forged racquet stringing invoices. While Zaatini reportedly told university officials he used the money to fund the tennis program, investigators said they could not find evidence of that.
“Basically, the allegations are that he was using ETSU money, ETSU credit cards that was supposed to go toward student activities or student events for his tennis team and he was using that for his benefit,” Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle said.
When Zaatini abruptly resigned in March, he promised to repay roughly $31,000 over three years. An ETSU spokesperson said as of this month, according to university records, he’s paid a little more than $19,000. As part of his resignation, Zaatini said he made “no admission of malfeasance.”
Zaatini’s attorney, Don Spurrell, said he hopes prosecutors will work him on a plea deal. He called the former coach “a good person.” Prosecutors say the next step is for Spurrell to review the many documents associated with the case.
“Once that is reviewed by him, we will start plea negotiations or set it for trial depending where this case goes,” McArdle said.
Zaatini is due back in court on May 4.
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