Infamous college consultant William “Rick” Singer, the mastermind of the Operation Varsity Blues’ fake athlete admissions scandal, was sentenced to 42 months (3.5 years) in prison on Wednesday. His prison term will be followed by three years of supervised release. Singer, 62, must also pay $10 million in restitution, according to the Boston Globe.
Singer negotiated a plea deal wherein he agreed to plead guilty to racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy charges; share incriminating evidence; and supply damning testimony against his former clients and colleagues in exchange for a lighter punishment. Singer’s attorneys asked Boston federal judge Rya Zobel to sentence him to probation with home detention, while prosecutors, describing Singer as inflicting unprecedented harm on higher education, sought a six-year term behind bars.
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In sentencing Singer, Judge Zobel underscored the far-reaching aspects of Singer’s wrongdoing and the amount of money involved.
The federal case, which began in 2019, rocked the college sports and admissions worlds. Singer assembled a network of coaches, standardized test proctors, web designers and other professionals who conspired with affluent parents to embellish their children’s academic and athletic profiles. Parents made, in some cases, payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Singer’s company, the Edge College & Career Network, and his sham charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, with Singer pocketing more than $25 million. In return, children with middling academic skills and modest athletic talents were portrayed as superb students who college coaches—conspirators in Singer’s scheme—aggressively recruited. Dozens of children were admitted into Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and other highly selective schools under false and exaggerated pretenses.
Fifty-seven individuals were charged in the scandal, 55 of whom were convicted, pleaded guilty or accepted deferred prosecution. Defendants included former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, former USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic, former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer as well as Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and other high net worth parents.
Singer sold them on what he termed the “side door” to college admissions. The “front door” consists of the normal application process, the “back door” involves donating millions of dollars to a university in hopes that it will curry favor for admissions and the “side door” entails bribing others to exaggerate an applicant’s credentials and ensure they are admitted.
The front and back doors are legal. The side door? Not so much.
Prosecutors maintained the side door amounts to criminal fraud in that it deprives the universities of their employees’ honest services. This theory of crime worked without a hitch until last year, when businessman Amin Khoury was found not guilty. Prosecutors alleged Khoury’s daughter was wrongfully admitted into Georgetown as a tennis recruit and that her dad had agreed to bribe Ernst. But Khoury’s lawyers redirected jurors’ attention to the admissions processes often found at elite colleges, which tend to award breaks to children of wealthy parents, none of whom was accused of crimes until Operation Varsity Blues.
Until Singer’s sentence, the stiffest penalty had been a 15-month sentence applied to private equity investor John Wilson, whose son and twin daughters were admitted into USC, Stanford and Harvard as members of the water polo and sailing teams. Wilson is appealing his conviction to the First Circuit.
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