News broke last week of a scandal in which high-profile executives and celebrities allegedly used bribery to secure their children’s admission to colleges across the U.S. Michael Volkov gives background on the story and its principal players.
In a shocking announcement, federal prosecutors announced the arrest and charges against numerous individuals in connection with a nationwide criminal investigation focusing on college entrance exam cheating and admission of students to elite universities as fake athletic recruits. Athletic coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown, as well as parents and exam administrators have been implicated.
At the center of the scam was William “Rick” Singer of Newport Beach, California, who was charged with and pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Singer owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network, a for-profit college counseling and preparation business. Singer was also the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), a nonprofit corporation that he established as a purported charity.
Over an eight-year period, 2011 to 2019, Singer conspired with dozens of parents, athletic coaches, a university athletics administrator and others to use bribes and fraud to secure students’ admission to college and universities. Thirty-three parents and 13 coaches and associates of Singer were charged with criminal offenses. Among the persons charged were John Vandemoer, the head sailing coach at Stanford University; Rudy Meredith, the former head soccer coach at Yale University; and Mark Riddell, a counselor at a private School in Bradenton, Florida.
Singer and his associates bribed SAT and ACT exam administrators to allow a test taker (usually Riddell) to secretly take college entrance exams in place of students or correct students’ exams. (In most cases, the students were not aware that their parents arranged for cheating scams). Singer instructed clients to seek extended time for their children on college exams based on false claims of learning disabilities. Once the extended time was authorized, Singer directed clients to seek relocation of test to another test center where he had bribed administrators, including at locations in Houston, Texas and West Hollywood, California. Singer paid the administrators approximately $10,000 per test. The administrators allowed a third person to take the test in place of the students, give the students the answers or correct the answers after they completed the exams. Singer’s clients paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per test and structured the payments as charitable donations to Singer’s fake charity.
Singer also orchestrated payment of approximately $25 million to bribe college coaches and administrators to designate their children as athletic recruits. Singer described the scheme to parents as a “side door,” in which they paid Singer through charitable donations. Singer funneled payments to programs controlled by the athletic coaches, who then designated the children as recruited athletes. Singer paid bribes to the coaches personally and his employees created fake athletic profiles for students with false information concerning honors and elite teams they purportedly played on.
Singer used his charitable organization to disguise bribe payments from clients, who then deducted the bribes from their federal income taxes. The employees mailed letters from the charity thanking them for their contributions and falsely stated that no goods or services were exchanged for the donations. Many clients filed personal tax returns that falsely reported the payment to the charity as a donation.
The roster of charged defendants is eye-opening and includes: Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of Willkie Farr; Felicity Huffman, an actress; Lori Loughlin, an actress; and a host of successful businesspersons and college coaches: the former head soccer coach of the woman’s team at Yale University; the former sailing coach at Stanford University; the complicit test administrators in Houston, Texas and West Hollywood, California; the former head coach of men and women’s tennis at Georgetown University; the former women’s volleyball coach at Wake Forest University; the senior associate athletic director, former women’s soccer head coach and assistant coach at the University of Southern California; the former head coach of men’s soccer at UCLA; the former water polo coach at the University of Southern California; and the head coach of men’s tennis at the University of Texas.
The defendants engaged in a brazen conspiracy, much of which is captured on a Title III wiretap-recorded conversations and meetings. The discussion of corrupt conduct is open and notorious, with little mention of ethics or acting to further a criminal scheme. The ease with which parents and college administrators acted in a corrupt and criminal manner is mind-boggling, to say the least.
This article was republished with permission from Michael Volkov’s blog, Corruption, Crime & Compliance.