William “Rick” Singer, the so-called college admissions consultant who bribed coaches and rigged exams to get the children of his wealthy clients into the nation’s top colleges, is to spend three years and six months in prison for orchestrated a scheme that earned him millions of dollars and rocked the country’s elite academic institutions.
In addition to the jail sentence, U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel on Wednesday ordered Singer to pay $10 million in restitution to the federal government.
The conviction of Singer, 62, ends what prosecutors have called the biggest college admissions fraud ever uncovered by law enforcement authorities. In addition to sending dozens of wealthy and powerful parents and coaches to prison, the case has exposed deep inequalities within higher education in the United States.
Some parents, for example, argued that their payments to Singer were no different from the donations that universities routinely request from applicants’ families. Their attorneys have looked into admissions practices at one of Singer’s favorite targets, the University of Southern California, revealing that school officials track how much a family is willing to donate when she was evaluating whether to admit her child.
Singer developed his scam after years of working at small college consulting firms in the Sacramento area, where he developed a realistic, if jaded, view of the college admissions process, his lawyers wrote in a note of condemnation.
Young people could study hard, take an interest in sports, the arts, or other extracurricular activities, and demonstrate to admissions officers at elite universities that they belonged on campus. This road was called “the gateway”.
“The backdoor,” he told his clients, could be opened with a massive donation to a university’s endowment, his lawyers wrote. But Singer warned that while a big check bought a benefit, it didn’t come with what her customers wanted most: a guarantee.
To that end, Singer built what he called his “side door” into Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, USC, and UCLA, among other schools. Singer maintained relationships with coaches and other sports officials who were essentially willing to sell him admission spots reserved for recruited athletes.
Using staged photographs and resumes filled with non-existent accolades, a girl who had never played competitive football found herself at UCLA on its nationally ranked football team; actress Lori Loughlin’s daughter was admitted to USC as a coxswain recruited based on a photograph posed on a rowing machine; and the son of a Los Angeles businessman won a place at USC after his father photographed him posing in water polo gear in the family pool, then paid a graphic designer to impose the image of the boy in a photo of a real match.
Singer charged parents six-figure sums for the service. For less money, he also arranged for their children to take standardized entrance exams with invigilators who were in his pocket and corrected errors on the tests or simply took them for themselves.
Singer grew and refined his plan while running a legitimate operation that generously charges clients to match their children with his group of tutors who helped them prepare for entrance exams and advised them on personal essays. In wealthy and powerful circles in LA, Silicon Valley, and New York, he achieved near-mythical status as a seer who understood the opaque, limitless world of college admissions in America, where schools of elite often admit less than one candidate in 10.
Singer was adept at detecting who among his clients was desperate enough to cross the line. In a call recorded by authorities, Singer introduced himself to a Massachusetts financier, John Wilson, as a college admissions expert and estimated what Wilson would need to give to Harvard or Stanford to get his college admissions in. 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 two for a special?”
Wilson was convicted of conspiring with Singer, but is appealing his conviction. The former Stanford sailing coach has pleaded guilty to conspiring with Singer, but no evidence has emerged that Singer bribed coaches or officials at Harvard.
Confronted in a Boston hotel room by officers who have been tapping his phones and reading his emails for months, Singer agreed in 2018 to help the government obtain proof that clients, coaches and administrators involved in his plan knew it was illegal. At the direction of his handlers, Singer called them on recorded lines, said he was being audited by the IRS, and asked them to recount bribes paid, tests corrected, and documents falsified.
On the same day 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 ended up pleading guilty or being sentenced. Jail sentences for parents were usually a few weeks or months. The longest sentence was given to a Georgetown tennis coach, Gordon Ernst, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for accepting bribes.
Singer’s attorneys, Candice L. Fields and A. Neil Hartzell, asked Zobel to keep Singer out of jail and instead punish him with one year house arrest, three years probation and 750 hours of community service.
While calling Singer’s cooperation “unprecedented” in federal prosecutions in Massachusetts, Leslie A. Wright, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston, noted that Singer admitted to thwarting the same investigators he was supposed to help.
Singer secretly informed six families of the investigation, either by meeting with them without a recording device or by calling on an unmonitored phone, Wright wrote. He eventually confessed and pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice.
Calling his cooperation both “singularly valuable and singularly problematic,” Wright asked Zobel to send Singer to jail for six years and pay $10 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service — the amount he should have paid in taxes on the money he received through the scheme.
Singer funneled money from parents to coaches, officials and test administrators through a sham called the Key Worldwide Foundation, whose nonprofit status gave its deep-pocketed clients the advantage additional to rescind their bribes as charity.
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 kickbacks and spent more than $11 million on what his lawyers called “investments, business development projects primarily focused on improved services to underfunded students and philanthropic giving”.
The Times reported that Singer had funded a dizzying array of business ventures, from an algorithm that matched applicants with their ideal college, to a concierge service for Chinese students, to a life coaching service for middle-aged women.
Singer agreed to waive the foundation’s account balance, $5,148,328; his stake in an Oakland basketball gym, which the feds sold for $100; his investment in a private equity firm, valued at $131,714; a share of a company called “Virtual PhD,” from which authorities recovered $24,000; and investments in Swansea Football Club, restaurant chain Sharky’s and other businesses, which the US Marshals Service is still selling, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.
Wilson’s attorney, Michael Kendall, claimed in a letter to Zobel that Singer transferred money to his brother 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 her iPhone: “How do I get money when I go out?” Sell house, 401 K etc map Sprinter Van etc[.] What should I do about the refund. . . ?”
Laura Smith, one of the FBI agents who investigated the case, wrote in an affidavit that there was no evidence that Singer hid any money through her brother or the has hidden in accounts abroad.
As for the issue raised by Singer in his memo, his lawyers say they are “optimistic about finding gainful employment” and have asked Zobel to spare him from jail so he can work and return to the IRS. .
“For the rest of my life,” Singer wrote in a letter to the judge, “I have no expectation or desire to have the lifestyle I had when I was arrested.”
After selling his home for $1.2 million and giving up the government money, Singer now lives in a seniors’ trailer park in St. Petersburg, Florida, spending his days exercising and teaching paddleboarding to veterans and children with autism. wrote the lawyers.
Los Angeles Times