Convictions, Prison Time: A Look at US College Admissions Scam
More than 50 people were convicted in the sprawling college admissions bribery scheme that embroiled elite universities across the country and landed a slew of prominent parents and athletic coaches behind bars.
The case dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by authorities revealed a scheme to get the children of rich parents into top-tier schools with fake athletic credentials and bogus entrance exam scores.
The ringleader of the scheme, corrupt admissions consultant Rick Singer, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on Wednesday, nearly four years after the first arrests were made in March 2019.
Here’s a look at the Varsity Blues investigation and where the cases stand now:
How did authorities uncover the scheme?
Federal investigators stumbled across the scandal after an executive they were targeting in an unrelated securities fraud scheme told them that a Yale soccer coach had offered to help his daughter get into the school in exchange for bribes. Authorities set up a sting in a Boston hotel room in April 2018 and recorded the coach, Rudy Meredith, soliciting a bribe from the father.
Investigators heard Singer’s name for the first time when Meredith mentioned him during that meeting. Meredith began cooperating that same month with investigators, who recorded phone calls and an in-person meeting between himself and Singer that revealed the extent of the bribery scheme.
Authorities then convinced Singer to cooperate with them and to record incriminating phone calls and in-person meetings with those involved with his scheme. His cooperation helped prosecutors build the case against dozens of parents, coaches and others.
Who has been convicted?
Of the more than 50 people charged in the case, all but a handful ended up pleading guilty.
Among the most high-profile parents who admitted to charges were “Full House” actor Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who paid $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as crew team recruits, even though neither of them played the sport. They helped create fake athletic profiles for their daughters by sending Singer photos of the teens posing on rowing machines.
Others who pleaded guilty include “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, who paid $15,000 to boost her older daughter’s SAT scores.
An heir to the Hot Pockets fortune also admitted to paying Singer $100,000 to have a proctor correct her two daughters’ ACT exam answers. The former chairman of a global law firm, the onetime chief executive of a media company, and a former owner of a California wine business were among others who pleaded guilty.
Only two parents accused of working with Singer ended up going to trial. Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and John Wilson, a former Staples Inc. executive, were both convicted at trial last year.
Abdelaziz, of Las Vegas, was charged with paying $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit even though she didn’t even make it onto her high school’s varsity team.
Wilson, who heads a Massachusetts private equity firm, was accused of paying $220,000 to have his son designated as a USC water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to buy his twin daughters’ ways into Harvard and Stanford. They have both appealed their convictions to the federal appeals court in Boston.
What have the punishments been?
Before Singer’s sentence, the longest sentence in the case had gone to Gordon Ernst, the former Georgetown University tennis coach who once coached former President Barack Obama’s family. He was sentenced in July to 2 1/2 years in prison for pocketing more than $3 million in bribes in exchange for helping parents cheat their kids’ way into the school.
Jorge Salcedo, a former University of California, Los Angeles, men’s soccer coach, was sentenced to eight months behind bars for accepting $200,000 in bribes to designate applicants as athletic recruits. Michael Center, a former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin, was sentenced to six months in prison for taking a $100,000 bribe
Loughlin was sentenced to two months in prison while Giannulli got five months behind bars. Huffman was sentenced to 14 days. Some parents avoided prison time entirely. The toughest punishment among the parents went to Wilson, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison. A judge has allowed Wilson to remain free while he appeals his conviction.
Did anyone beat the charges?
Just before leaving office, President Donald Trump pardoned Robert Zangrillo, a prominent Miami developer and investor who was charged with paying $250,000 to get his daughter into USC as a transfer in 2018.
William Ferguson, a former Wake Forest University coach, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with prosecutors that will make the case against him go away with the payment of a fine as long as he follows certain conditions.
A judge in September ordered a new trial for Jovan Vavic, the former USC water polo coach accused of taking more than $200,000 in bribes. Jurors found Vavic guilty, but the judge concluded that some evidence introduced by the government in Vavic’s fraud and bribery case was unreliable and that prosecutors erred in their argument to jurors about some of the alleged bribe money.
One parent linked to the case, Amin Khoury, was acquitted of charges that he paid off a Georgetown University tennis coach to get his daughter into the school. Khoury wasn’t accused of working with Singer, but authorities alleged he used a middleman he was friends with in college at Brown University to bribe Ernst.