Rick Singer, college admissions scandal ringleader, sentenced
The mastermind of the nationwide college admissions bribery program that ensnared celebrities, prominent businesspeople and other parents who used their wealth and privilege to buy their children into top-notch schools was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on Wednesday .
The sentence for Rick Singer, 62, is the longest sentence imposed in the wide-ranging scandal that has embarrassed some of the country’s most prestigious universities and spotlighted the secret admissions system already thought to be rigged in favor of the wealthy.
Prosecutors had searched behind bars for six years and found Singer’s extensive cooperation, which helped authorities uncover the entire scheme. Singer began secretly working with investigators in 2018, recording hundreds of phone calls and meetings that helped authorities build the case against dozens of parents, athletic coaches and others who were arrested in March 2019.
Those jailed for participating in the program include Full House actress Lori Loughlin, her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli and Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman. Coaches from schools including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and UCLA admitted taking bribes.
“The behavior in this case was like something out of a Hollywood movie,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins told reporters after the sentencing.
Singer was also ordered to pay back more than $10 million to the IRS and forfeit millions more in money and assets to the government. In February he was ordered to report to prison.
Although Singer’s cooperation helped authorities secure the conviction of a number of defendants, prosecutors noted that he also admitted to obstructing the investigation by providing tips to several of his clients who were under state control. He was never summoned by the government as a witness in the cases that came before the courts.
In seeking leniency for Singer, defense attorney Candice Fields told the judge that her client took great personal risk by wearing a cable to record meetings for investigators and “did whatever was necessary” to plead with the government help. Fields had applied for three years’ probation, or if the judge deemed jail time necessary, six months behind bars.
“The investigation only got the notoriety it got because dozens of influential and sometimes prominent defendants were prosecuted,” Fields said.
Singer apologized to his family, the schools he had publicly embarrassed, and the students he had worked with over the years. He pledged to work the rest of his life to make a positive impact on people’s lives.
“My moral compass was distorted by the lessons my father taught me about competition. I embraced his belief that embellishment or even lying is acceptable to win as long as there is victory. I should have known better,” he said.
Singer pled guilty to charges including racketeering and money laundering conspiracy in 2019, the same day the massive case broke. Dozens of others eventually pleaded guilty to the charges, while two parents were convicted in court.
Authorities in Boston began investigating the plan after an executive being investigated over an independent securities fraud scheme told investigators that a Yale soccer coach had offered to help his daughter get to school in exchange for cash. The Yale trainer led authorities to Singer, whose cooperation broke up the entire scheme.
For years, Singer paid entrance exam administrators or prosecutors to inflate students’ test scores and bribed coaches to label applicants as recruits to increase their chances of getting into the school.
Coaches in sports like soccer, sailing, and tennis took bribes to pretend to recruit students to be athletes, regardless of ability. Fake sports profiles were created to make students look like stars in sports they sometimes didn’t even play. The bribes were usually funneled through Singer’s sham charity, allowing some parents to disguise the payments as charitable donations and deduct the payments from their federal income taxes.
According to prosecutors, Singer took more than $25 million from his clients, paid a total of more than $7 million in bribes and used more than $15 million of his clients’ money for his own benefit.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank told the judge that if she failed to award a substantial prison sentence, it would send a “devastating message that fraud and obstruction of justice pays off.”
“This defendant was responsible for the most massive fraud ever committed in the United States higher education system,” Frank said.
Before Singer, the harshest sentence was for former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for pocketing more than $3 million in bribes.
The parents’ sentences ranged from probation to 15 months behind bars, although the parent who received that prison sentence remains at large while he appeals his conviction.
A parent who was not accused of working with Singer was acquitted of all charges as he was accused of bribing Ernst to get his daughter into school. And a judge ordered a new trial for former University of Southern California water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who was convicted of taking bribes.