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Sacramento Man Charged In College Bribery Scheme Alongside TV Stars And Coaches

albertogp123 / Flickr
 

albertogp123 / Flickr

Updated March 13, 7:54 a.m.

Alanna Durkin Richer and Collin Binkley, Associated Press

(AP) — Sacramento resident William “Rick” Singer, actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and nearly fifty other people were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said.

"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million federal bribery case.

He called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

The bribes allegedly came through Singer’s admissions consulting company, Edge College & Career Network. The parents paid Singer approximately $25 million to help get their children into college.

The conspiracy allegedly included bribing entrance exam administrators to allow test takers to take exams in the place of students or to correct students’ answers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. Prosecutors say the company also bribed university athletic coaches and administrators to get students admitted under the guise of being recruited as athletes

Singer and the parents allegedly used Singer’s charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, to conceal the bribes.He allegedly directed employees of Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation to create fake athletic portfolios for students, which were submitted to universities to support the students’ applications.

He also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students, and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students' answers.

Some parents supplied Singer with staged photos of their children participating in athletic activities, such as using a rowing machine or playing water polo to support the fake profiles.

Singer faces charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of justice.

He pleaded guilty and his lawyer, Donald Heller, said his client intends to cooperate fully with prosecutors and is "remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life."

Two Folsom residents who were employees of Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation, Steven Masera and Mikaela Sanford, were also charged in the scheme.

At least nine athletic coaches and dozens of parents were among those charged. A total of 46 people were arrested by midday, including Huffman and Loughlin, in an investigation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, federal authorities said.

Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes, to alter test scores and to have others take online classes to boost their children's chances of getting into schools.

Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the college entrance cheating scam.

Huffman posted a $250,000 bond after an appearance in federal court in Los Angeles. Her husband, actor William H. Macy, has not been charged, though an FBI agent stated in an affidavit that he was in the room when Huffman first heard the pitch from a scam insider.

Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and Macy at their Los Angeles home and explained the scam to them. The cooperator told investigators that Huffman and her spouse "agreed to the plan."

It was unclear when the "Full House" star Loughlin would turn herself in. Loughlin's husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was released in Los Angeles after posting a $1 million bond.

On Wednesday, a Silicon Valley hedge fund announced that it is replacing its head after he became ensnared in the scandal.

Manuel Henriquez, who was also the top executive investment giant PIMCO until 2016, will be replaced as CEO and chairman of Hercules Capital in Palo Alto, California. Henriquez was arrested in New York City on Tuesday and released on $500,000 bail. Shares of the hedge fund plunged 9 percent.

Hercules said that Henriquez will still hold a seat on the board and will serve as an adviser.

The coaches worked at schools such as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Stanford's sailing coach John Vandemoer pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty before the documents went public and helped build the case against others.

Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission, officials said.

"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.

Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The schools themselves are not targets of the investigation, he said.

No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the students were not aware of the fraud.

The colleges themselves are not targets, the prosecutor said. A number of the institutions moved quickly to fire or suspend the coaches and distance their name from the scandal, portraying themselves as victims. Stanford fired the sailing coach, and USC dropped its water polo coach and an athletic administrator. UCLA suspended its soccer coach, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach.

 

Capital Public Radio's Emily Zentner and AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton contributed to this report.

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