By Sommer Brokaw and Daniel Uria
March 12 (UPI) — A CEO and a college sailing coach at the center of the largest college admission scam prosecuted by the Justice Department pleaded guilty Tuesday for their involvement.
William Rick Singer, who owned and operated a for-profit college entrance company, pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering, tax conspiracy and obstruction of justice and Stanford University’s former head sailing coach, John Vandemoer, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
Federal authorities charged 50 people in the college admissions scam involving millions of dollars.
The indictment unsealed in Boston says 33 wealthy parents bribed college entrance exam administrators to get their children into Ivy-league and other high-profile schools. The accusations say some of the efforts attempted to get athletic scholarships and others paid for high test scores.
Among the more high-profile defendants named in the indictment are actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said Singer was paid about $25 million by parents to help their children get into colleges through his company, The Key, which allegedly helped wealthy students cheat on the ACTs or SATs to achieve better scores.
Singer also allegedly “paid enormous sums to guarantee their children’s admission to certain schools through the use of bribes and fake academic and athletic credentials,” Lelling said.
He faces a maximum of 65 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release, a $1.25 million dollar fine and $400 special assessment. Singer’s attorney added the he is “very remorseful and “excited to cooperate” with the government.
Vandemoer, who was fired by Stanford earlier Tuesday, said he used the money paid to him in the bribes to buy new materials for the Stanford sailing team.
The University of Southern California also fired senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic for their role in the scam.
“Donna Heinel and Jovan Vavic have been terminated and the university will take additional employment actions as appropriate,” the university said. “USC is in the process of identifying any funds received by the university in connection with this alleged scheme. Additionally, the university is reviewing its admissions processes broadly to ensure that such actions do not occur going forward.”
Among those charged are two other scam organizers, two exam administrators, one college administrator and wealthy parents who paid to get their children into the schools Lelling told reporters Tuesday.
Court documents showed Huffman and Loughlin are among those indicted. Huffman is perhaps best known for her role in ABC’s Desperate Housewives and Loughlin ABC’s Full House in the late 1980s and the more recent Fuller House.
Loughlin and Huffman were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.
The indicted also included “nine coaches at elite schools” who “pretend(ed) that certain applicants were recruited, competitive athletes, when in fact, the applicants were not,” Lelling said.
Some of the schools targeted in the entrance scheme are Yale, Georgetown, the University of Southern California, Stanford, UCLA and the University of Texas. None of the schools, however, are accused of complicity in the case.
From 2011 to 2018, Lelling said wealthy parents made about $25 million in payments to guarantee their children’s admission to elite schools, and FBI agents wiretapped phone calls involving some of the parents and a cooperating witness.
A former Yale University women’s soccer coach, Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith of Madison, Conn. is charged in the case with two counts of wire fraud. The indictment said Meredith conspired Singer. Then, Singer paid Mark Riddell, another defendant, to bribe the two exam administrators, prosecutors said.
Wealthy parents paid Singer up to $75,000 for “someone to take the test for their child or correct the exam afterward,” Lelling said.