College admissions fraud mastermind sentenced to three years and six months in prison

College admissions fraud mastermind sentenced to three years and six months in prison

  • US News
  • January 4, 2023
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William “Rick” Singer, the self-proclaimed college admissions adviser who bribed coaches and fixed exams to get his wealthy clients’ children into the best universities in the country, has been sentenced to three years and six months in prison for committing a plan that made him millions of dollars and rocked the country’s elite academic institutions.

In addition to the prison sentence, US District Judge Rya W. Zobel Wednesday ordered Singer to pay the federal government $10 million in compensation.

The sentence for Singer, 62, ends what prosecutors have called the largest college admissions fraud ever uncovered by law enforcement. The case not only jailed dozens of wealthy, influential parents and coaches, but also exposed profound inequalities within higher education in America.

Some parents, for example, have argued that their payments to Singer are no different than the donations that universities routinely solicit from applicants’ families. Her attorneys delved into admissions practices at one of Singer’s favorite destinations, the University of Southern California, and revealed that school officials track how much a family is willing to give when considering whether to accept their child.

Singer developed his fraud after years of working at small Sacramento-area college consulting firms, where he developed a realistic if jaded view of the college admissions process, his attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo.

Young people could study hard, pursue an interest in sports, arts, or other extracurricular activities, and show admissions officers at elite universities that they belonged on campus. This path was called “the front door”.

“The back door,” he told his clients, could be opened with a massive donation to a university foundation, his attorneys wrote. However, Singer warned that while a big check provided an advantage, it didn’t come with what his customers wanted most: a guarantee.

To that end, Singer built what he called his “side door” at Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, USC, and UCLA, among others. Singer maintained relationships with coaches and other sports officials who were willing to sell him tickets intended for recruited athletes.

Using staged photos and resumes full of nonexistent awards, a girl who had never played competitive soccer found herself at UCLA on their national soccer team; daughter of actress Lori Loughlin admitted to USC as a recruit helmsman based on a posed photo on a rowing machine; and the son of a Los Angeles businessman won a spot at USC after his father photographed him posing in water polo gear at the family pool and then paid a graphic designer to feature the boy’s image in a shot of a real game.

Singer charged parents six figures for the service. For less money, he also arranged for their children to take standardized entrance exams with proctors who were in his pocket and either corrected mistakes in the tests or simply did them for them.

Singer grew and refined his scheme while running a legitimate business in which clients charged handsome fees to match their children with his cadre of tutors who helped prepare them for entrance exams and mentored them on their personal essays. In the circles of the rich and powerful of LA, Silicon Valley, and New York City, he achieved near-mythical status as a seer who understood the opaque, uncompromising world of college admissions in America, where elite schools often admit fewer than one in 10 applicants.

Singer was adept at sensing which of his clients were desperate enough to cross the line. In a call recorded by the authorities, Singer introduced himself to a Massachusetts financier, John Wilson, as a college admissions expert, and estimated what Wilson would need to donate to either Harvard or Stanford to bring in his twin daughters: $45 million.

“God,” Wilson said.

But for just $1.2 million, Singer said he could get them into the same schools through the “side door.”

“Jesus,” Wilson said. “Is there a 2 for 1 special?”

Wilson was found guilty of conspiring with Singer but is appealing his conviction. Stanford’s former sailing coach pleaded guilty to conspiring with Singer, but no evidence has surfaced that Singer subordinated any coaches or officials at Harvard.

Confronted in a Boston hotel room by agents who spent months tapping his phones and reading his emails, Singer agreed in 2018 to help the government obtain evidence that the clients, coaches and administrators involved in his program knew it was illegal. At the direction of his superiors, Singer called them on taped lines, said he was under investigation by the IRS, and asked them to report on bribes paid, corrected tests, and forged documents.

On the same day that Singer pleaded guilty in 2019, prosecutors charged dozens of parents, coaches and test administrators with crimes ranging from racketeering to fraud to money laundering. Almost all either pleaded guilty or were convicted. The prison sentences for the parents were usually a few weeks or months. The longest prison sentence was for Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for taking bribes.

Singer’s attorneys, Candice L. Fields and A. Neil Hartzell, urged Zobel to keep Singer out of prison and instead sentence him to a year of house arrest, three years of probation and 750 hours of community service.

Leslie A. Wright, an assistant US attorney in Boston, called Singer’s work with the Massachusetts federal prosecutor’s office “unprecedented.”

Singer secretly alerted six families to the investigation, either by meeting them without a recording device or by calling an unsupervised phone, Wright wrote. He eventually confessed and pleaded guilty to one charge of obstruction of justice.

Calling his collaboration both “uniquely valuable and uniquely problematic,” Wright asked Zobel to send Singer to prison for six years and pay $10 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service — the amount he would have in taxes on the money shall pay, which he had received by the scheme.

Singer funneled money from parents to coaches, officials, and test administrators through a front company called the Key Worldwide Foundation, whose nonprofit status gave his money-crazed clients the added benefit of being able to write off their bribes as charities.

In their sentencing papers, Singer’s attorneys said $27.6 million was deposited into the bogus foundation’s accounts over seven years. Of that total, Singer distributed about $7.5 million in bribes and dedicated more than $11 million to what his attorneys called “investments, business development projects focused primarily on improving services to underserved students, and philanthropic gifts.” “, called.

The Times reported that Singer funded a dizzying array of business ventures, from an algorithm that matched applicants to their ideal college, to a concierge service for Chinese students to a life-coaching service for middle-aged women.

Singer has agreed to forfeit the balance of the Foundation’s accounts of $5,148,328; his interest in an Oakland basketball gym that the federal government sold for $100; his $131,714 investment in a private equity firm; a stake in a company called Virtual PhD, from which authorities recovered $24,000; and investments in Swansea Football Club, restaurant chain Sharky’s and other businesses that the US Marshals Service is still selling, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing note.

Wilson’s attorney, Michael Kendall, in a letter to Zobel, alleged that Singer wired his brother money and hid millions of dollars in Panama, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. Kendall pointed to a note Singer had written on his iPhone: “How do I get money when I get out? Sell ​​house, 401 K etc. Sprinter Van card etc[.] What do I do with restitution? . . ?”

Laura Smith, one of the FBI agents investigating the case, wrote in an affidavit that there was no evidence Singer hid money through his brother or in accounts abroad.

As for the issue Singer raises in his note, his attorneys say he’s “optimistic about finding gainful employment” and asked Zobel to spare him from jail so he can work and pay compensation to the IRS.

“For the rest of my life,” Singer wrote in a letter to the judge, “I have no expectation or desire to live the lifestyle I had when I was caught.”

After selling his home for $1.2 million and forfeiting the sum to the government, Singer now resides in a senior trailer park in St. Petersburg, Fla. and spends his days coaching and helping veterans and children with autism To teach paddling lawyers wrote.

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