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Key Ingredient In College-Admissions Scheme: A Harvard-Graduate Test Whiz (#GotBitcoin?)

Mark Riddell, a 36-year-old Harvard University graduate, used his uncanny ability to boost scores fraudulently on college-entrance exams for teens of wealthy families participating in the scheme, according to federal filings. Key Ingredient In College-Admissions Scheme: A Harvard-Graduate Test Whiz

Mark Riddell used his uncanny test-taking ability to boost scores for students.

He was a test-taking whiz who could get any score on demand, federal prosecutors say, and the secret weapon in the college-admissions cheating scandal.

“He did not have inside information about the correct answers,” the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said after announcing Tuesday’s federal charges. “He was just smart enough to get a near-perfect score.”

Prosecutors say Mr. Riddell, who lives outside Tampa, Fla., was central to the cheating scheme. He has agreed to plead guilty to mail fraud and a money-laundering-related charge, according to court documents, and is scheduled to appear in court in Boston in April.

After the charges, Mr. Riddell issued a statement apologizing for the damage and grief he caused. “I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process,” he said.

Prosecutors said William Rick Singer’s testing scheme took place at least 30 times back as far as 2011. Of the 33 parents who were charged Tuesday, at least 16 are linked in court documents to Mr. Riddell, who was referred to as “Cooperating Witness 2.”

He has been helping with the investigation since February in hopes of leniency, federal filings say.

In one case, a test had to be scheduled at a later date because Mr. Riddell had a baby, according to the filings. Another time, Mr. Riddell used false identification to pose as a student. And after a Los Angeles teen had tonsillitis and couldn’t meet Mr. Riddell at the Houston test site—where the plan was for Mr. Riddell to fix the teen’s test answers afterward—Mr. Riddell asked for a handwriting sample and took the test on his behalf, scoring a 35 out of a possible 36 on the ACT.

Mr. Riddell is among some 50 people charged in Operation Varsity Blues, a federal investigation that resulted in the largest college-admissions scandal ever prosecuted.

From 2011 to 2018, prosecutors say, dozens of parents paid more than $25 million to Mr. Singer, a Newport Beach, Calif., college-admissions consultant, to bribe coaches to designate their children as top recruits or boost test scores. Mr. Singer pleaded guilty to four charges Tuesday.

Mr. Riddell is an alumnus of IMG Academy, a private Bradenton, Fla., prep school where boarding-school tuition for this year runs to as much as $77,650.

From there he went to Harvard, where he studied biology and played on its men’s tennis team, graduating in 2004.

This week, he was suspended indefinitely from his job as director of college entrance exam preparation at his alma mater IMG, which has grown into a factory for a wide range of young athletes in sports including baseball, golf, basketball and lacrosse. The school was purchased in 1987 by sports-marketing giant IMG Worldwide.

Mr. Singer assured parents seeking his services that Mr. Riddell could “nail a score,” the court filings say.

In 2011, Canadian businessman and philanthropist David Sidoo allegedly paid Mr. Singer $100,000 to have Mr. Riddell secretly take the SAT in place of his older son, according to court filings. Directed not to score too high, Mr. Riddell earned a 1670 out of 2400, the filing says.

He also took a Canadian high-school graduation exam for the son and later was paid to take the SAT for Mr. Sidoo’s younger son, the filing says.

Mr. Sidoo, who stepped down as chief executive from East West Petroleum Corp. this week, is scheduled to appear in court Friday in Boston for a plea hearing. He plans to plead not guilty, his attorney said.

In court on Tuesday, Mr. Singer said Mr. Riddell would fly in from Florida to two test centers in Houston and West Hollywood, Calif. Parents were advised to concoct a reason, such as a bar mitzvah, for why they were in town.

There, Mr. Riddell would either take the ACT or SAT test for the student, help them during the test, or change the student’s answers afterward, federal authorities said. Mr. Singer would pay Mr. Riddell approximately $10,000 per test.

Tanned and sandy blond, Mr. Riddell charmed the students during these encounters. “She loves the guy,” one parent, Marcia Abbott, said about her daughter to Mr. Singer in a recorded phone call described in the filings. “She said he was so sweet.”

Ms. Abbott and her husband, Greg, who Thursday stepped aside as chief executive of International Dispensing Corp. , allegedly used Mr. Riddell to correct answers on their daughter’s ACT test and then booked him for the SAT, flying her in from Aspen to the L.A. testing site last October, court filings say.

Ms. Abbott was seeking scores on the SAT above 750 per section, which is what she said Duke University required. In a phone call, Mr. Singer assured her that it could be done, according to the court filings.

“We’ll get 750 and above,” Mr. Singer promised.

“Fabulous,” Ms. Abbott replied.

After the Abbotts’ daughter scored in the mid-600s in the literature section on her own—by Mr. Singer’s estimation—Mr. Riddell fixed some errors and she ended up with a 710, according to federal filings. For math, he got her a perfect 800, according to the filings.

Two More Parents To Plead Guilty In College Admissions Case

California couple to become cooperating witnesses, providing federal authorities with additional information.

Two more parents in the college-admissions cheating scandal have agreed to plead guilty and said Monday they would continue to cooperate with prosecutors, bringing to four the number of defendants who have admitted to fraud to help their children get into elite colleges.

Bruce Isackson and Davina Isackson, a married couple from Hillsborough, Calif., allegedly paid $600,000 between 2015 and earlier this year to have college-admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer help their two daughters be designated as recruited athletes to virtually guarantee them spots at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California.

The payments also covered Mr. Singer helping the younger of the two cheat on her college entrance exams. The couple were also in discussions to participate in the test-cheating scheme for their third child, prosecutors said.

The pair will plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud. Mr. Isackson also agreed to plead guilty to one count each of money-laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to defraud the U.S., also known as tax-fraud conspiracy.

The couple are also becoming cooperating witnesses, according to people familiar with the matter.

“No words can express how profoundly sorry we are for what we have done,” they said in a statement released by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP and Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, the law firms representing the couple. “Our duty as parents was to set a good example for our children and instead we have harmed and embarrassed them by our misguided decisions.”

Gordon Caplan, former co-chairman of law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, and another parent, Peter Jan Sartorio, have both indicated in court filings and public statements that they intend to plead guilty.

The Wall Street Journal reported late last month that a number of parents were discussing pleas with federal authorities, and that some of those agreements could include jail time, according to people familiar with the matter.

A number of parents, including Mr. Isackson, were caught on recorded phone calls with Mr. Singer last fall stating that they had taken tax write-offs on the payments they made for Mr. Singer’s services. Many paid him via donations to his allegedly sham charity, Key Worldwide Foundation.

Updated: 4-12-2019

Test-Taking Whiz In College Admissions Scandal Expected To Plead Guilty

Mark Riddell will appear at Boston federal court on Friday.

A crucial player in the college admissions cheating scandal is expected to plead guilty in federal court here Friday, according to federal court filings.

Prosecutors say Mark Riddell, 36 years old, helped teens cheat on college-entrance exams by correcting their answers, often to achieve a score that was higher but not so high that it would arouse suspicion.

Mr. Riddell is a cooperating witness in the case. He has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a plea agreement with the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office.

His charges carry as many as 20 years in prison, but prosecutors are recommending incarceration “at the low end” of sentencing guidelines. Mr. Riddell led college-exam test preparation at IMG Academy, the elite sports academy in Florida, but he was suspended from his job after being charged in Boston.

Comments:

William Ferguson—Lawyer said he isn’t guilty and will fight to clear his name, “I can’t speak to what happened at any other university but not at Wake Forest.”

Martin Fox—Martin has helped thousands of kids through sports programs in the last 30 years. We are confident he doesn’t belong in this indictment.”

Donna Heinel—”Anyone who knows Donna Heinel knows she is a woman of integrity and ethics with a strong moral compass. We look forward to reviewing the government’s evidence and fully restoring Donna’s reputation.”

Mark Riddell—”I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process.”

David Sidoo—Asked people not to rush to judgment.

Rick Singer—”He pled guilty to serious, serious offenses that he admitted straight out. But there’s another side to Rick.”

Lamont Smith—Resigned from position at the University of Texas-El Paso, “Lamont is deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with the talented athletes and coaching staff” at the school.

John Vandemoer—When pleading guilty in court, said he knew he was doing something that violated the law when he brought Mr. Singer’s clients to Stanford’s admissions committee with the understanding they were interested in making donations to the school’s sailing program.

Robert Zangrillo—”I am deeply troubled by the recent complaint regarding Key Worldwide Foundation and I regret my and my daughter’s involvement in this college admissions matter.”

He must also forfeit $239,449 that he made from the scheme, according to the plea deal.

Mr. Riddell is scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton, the latest in a flurry of court appearances and pleas in what prosecutors describe as an active investigation.

Federal prosecutors in March charged 50 people, including test proctors, college coaches and 33 parents, in “Operation Varsity Blues.” Between 2011 and early this year, parents allegedly paid more than $25 million to California consultant William “Rick” Singer to arrange for test cheating or to bribe coaches to designate their kids as recruited athletes.

Mr. Riddell would be the fourth person to plead guilty, after Mr. Singer, and two former coaches, one from Yale University and one from Stanford University.

In addition, 13 of the parents—including actress Felicity Huffman—and one college coach on Monday agreed to plead guilty.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Singer would pay Mr. Riddell about $10,000 per test, and Mr. Riddell had the extraordinary ability to land a score just impressive enough to not raise red flags.

“I would already tell him the score that we wanted to get, and Mark would get that score exactly,” Mr. Singer testified.

Updated: 5-1-2019

How Not To Bribe College Basketball Coaches

The alleged bribery of top collegiate players and coaches sounds like a slick operation. But an ongoing federal trial shows that ineptness and low comedy were sprinkled in liberally with the cash.

The suite at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas looked like the set of a heist film: iridescent blue light cast shadows across low-slung couches, where three men in suits made deals. One by one, college basketball coaches came through. Some left with stacks of cash and agreements to steer star players to the men, who said they were starting a sports-management company.

But one of the three men was an undercover FBI agent posing as an investor. Another was a cooperating witness. The cash was provided by the federal government, and the hotel encounter was recorded by law enforcement.

Oh, and their plan—to bribe college coaches and secure their players as clients—was ridiculous. Even one of the men who was charged by federal prosecutors in connection with the alleged bribery scheme thought it was a bad idea.

Testimony and government evidence in a federal trial under way in Manhattan has exposed the seedy underbelly of college basketball—showing how shoe companies, athlete managers and university coaches undermine college amateurism rules.

But while the trial is about how a handful of people attempted to beat the system, their scheme also shows how not to.

Federal prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office allege that Christian Dawkins, an aspiring sports agent, bribed assistant college coaches so they would steer star players to his fledgling sports management business. But Dawkins’s lawyer told the jury that federal investigators concocted the bribery plan, then drew his client into it. His defense was the idiocy of the plan: Dawkins, his lawyer said, thought bribing coaches was “a complete waste of money” that “made no business sense.”

Dawkins and his co-defendant, Merl Code, were convicted in a related trial last fall, on charges that they bribed high school players’ families alongside a former Adidas AG executive. Both cases emerged in 2017 from a yearslong probe of college basketball corruption that implicated some of the biggest names in the sport.

The alleged bribery of top collegiate players and coaches sounds like a slick operation. But this trial—featuring a cooperating witness, secret recordings and undercover FBI agents in featured roles—shows that ineptness and low comedy were sprinkled in liberally with the cash.

The Yacht

In June 2017, a month before college coaches paraded through the hotel room, the key figures met on a yacht docked off downtown Manhattan’s Battery Park.

Because, of course, every ruse like this needs a yacht.

“I’ve never heard of a story where two guys get on a yacht where it turns out good,” said Dawkins’s lawyer, Steve Haney.

On board was an undercover FBI agent who went by the name Jeff D’Angelo. Posing as a wealthy investor—Haney told the jury to picture Sperry boat shoes, with a sweater tied over his neck—and came with a “very attractive” blonde. She was also an undercover FBI agent.

The agents were working behind the scenes with Louis “Marty” Blazer, a Pittsburgh financial adviser who had been cooperating with federal investigators. Publicly, Blazer had created a partnership with Dawkins and another financial adviser. Together they devised a scheme to secure the next generation of basketball stars for their sports-management company by giving money to the right people. Dawkins, his lawyer conceded, had done similar things before.

Dawkins and the other man thought D’Angelo was going to fund their business—which seemed awfully easy when D’Angelo went downstairs on the yacht and returned with a duffle bag holding tens of thousands of dollars.

Dawkins didn’t think highly of his new business partner, Haney told the jury during his opening arguments. “He calls Jeff D’Angelo stupid,” Haney said. “He calls him an idiot.” But he proceeded to work with him anyway.

The Shoes Full of Money In The Shoe Money Trial

Not long after, Dawkins had a problem. He had been a runner for a sports agency, gaining access to top basketball players at the grass-roots level by greasing hands. He was looking to get money to Robert Williams, then a top player at Texas A&M, according to Blazer’s testimony at trial.

In July 2017, Dawkins met with Blazer in the Vegas hotel suite and explained that he needed cash quickly. Blazer and the undercover FBI agent, D’Angelo, agreed to give Dawkins $11,000. The only question: how would they get the illicit payment to Williams?

Which is how $11,000 of the government’s money ended up in a shoebox that would be sent across the country.

After D’Angelo gave Dawkins the money, the men went downstairs to a store inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Blazer says. There, they bought a pair of shoes. The trio stuffed the cash inside the shoes, went to a nearby FedEx and shipped it off to Williams. (Williams, who now plays for the Boston Celtics, has said he never received improper payments.)

The ‘I Got Lost On My Way To Zion’s House’ Routine

Before Zion Williamson laid siege to college basketball rims around the country and extirpated his own shoe on national television, he was a South Carolina teenager with millions of Instagram followers who hadn’t decided where he wanted to go to college. And because he lived in South Carolina, Clemson had the ambitious notion that it could potentially nab the prized recruit.

That’s why Clemson assistant Steve Smith came into the Cosmopolitan hotel suite, where he was also unwittingly recorded by federal investigators. On that recording, Dawkins said powerhouses like Duke and Kentucky would have their “resources” ready to get Williamson, and that if he picked Clemson, they would be prepared to provide Smith with the same. And Smith believed he had an in.

On the wiretap, Smith bragged that he was so familiar with Williamson’s stepfather—who also coached his AAU team—that Smith knew precisely how long it took to drive to his house: one hour and four minutes.

Smith knew that he shouldn’t know this. Such trips would have violated NCAA rules. And in order to cover his tracks in front of his boss, his idea was to play dumb.

So when Smith and Clemson head coach Brad Brownell took an official trip to the house at a time that didn’t violate NCAA rules, Smith planned to purposefully take a number of wrong turns en route so it would look like he had never been there before.

Clemson has said it is reviewing information from the trial.

Updated: 9-5-2019

Why Parents In The College-Admissions Scandal May Get Light Sentences 

Prosecutors say schools were victims; parents say no one was financially harmed, so sentences should be light.

An unusual legal dispute brewing in the nationwide college-admissions cheating scandal could lead to lighter punishments than prosecutors want for parents who have pleaded guilty.

A U.S. district judge here proposed to delay the sentencings of the first two of those 15 parents this month in order to hold a hearing on a crucial question: Did the parents cause anyone financial harm?

Penalties in white-collar cases are often tied to financial losses for victims—or gains for perpetrators.

Prosecutors have characterized universities as victims in this case. They are seeking prison time for at least some parents implicated in the $25 million scheme, saying the defendants deprived other families of coveted college spots and eroded public trust in the admissions process by working with counselor William “Rick” Singer to bribe coaches or cheat on college-entrance exams. The government has tied financial loss to the amount parents paid Mr. Singer.

Fifty-one people have been charged since March in the sprawling “Operation Varsity Blues” case.

Lawyers for some charged parents argue no one lost anything of monetary value as a result of their actions. In some cases, schools actually gained funds thanks to illicit donations from the parents and Mr. Singer.

The federal probation office, which consults judges on sentencings, has found no financial loss for any parties so far, according to a recent letter Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling sent to Judge Indira Talwani last month.

Recommendations from the probation office are generally respected by prosecutors and defense attorneys, though there is opportunity for some pushback, according to multiple defense attorneys and former prosecutors.

If Judge Talwani follows the probation office’s recommendation, some parents whose plea deals currently include upward of a year in prison could end up serving far less time, or none at all. However, if she agrees with prosecutors’ arguments, parents could still face stiff penalties.

Prosecutors’ strategy to tie sentences to financial losses suffered a setback in June, when former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer was sentenced in the case.

Mr. Vandermoer admitted to taking bribes from Mr. Singer for Stanford’s sailing program in exchange for flagging some teens as recruited athletes, even though they weren’t competitive sailors, and giving them a boost in the admissions process.

Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel for a sentence of 13 months in prison.

But the probation department found no economic loss, since Mr. Vandemoer turned over his ill-gotten gains to Stanford. Stanford also told the court in a letter it hadn’t experienced financial loss.

Judge Zobel sentenced Mr. Vandemoer to one day in prison, which he already served, and two years of supervised release, including six months home confinement.

Mr. Lelling said in a statement after that sentencing that his office “will continue to seek meaningful penalties in these cases.”

Prosecutors now appear worried about similarly light sentences.

Probation reports are confidential, but Mr. Lelling alluded to tension in the letter filed in court last month. In pre-sentencing reports received so far, he wrote, “probation has concluded that the defendants’ crime caused no financial loss to any victim.”

“It is unclear, at this stage, why Probation has elected to disregard the government’s submission and the victims’ statements on this issue,” he wrote. The probation office declined to comment.

Mr. Lelling’s letter highlights what is at stake. The probation office’s views often carry significant weight at any sentencing hearing, according to Brian T. Kelly, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at Nixon Peabody LLP and represents a parent who has pleaded not guilty in the admissions case.

Last week, Judge Talwani called for a hearing to hash out the larger dispute over losses. The judge delayed sentencings for fathers Devin Sloane and Stephen Semprevivo, originally set for Sept. 10 and 11. The sentencing for actress Felicity Huffman is still set for Sept. 13.


The judge’s ultimate determination “will be a significant road map” for future sentencings, said Henry Hockeimer Jr., a former federal prosecutor who now leads the white-collar defense practice at Ballard Spahr LLP and isn’t involved in the case.

“It’s typically not aired out this publicly if there’s a dispute with probation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” he said.

A lawyer representing a party who has pleaded not guilty called the coming hearing “the biggest event so far in the case.”

Crimes without financial loss typically result in sentencing guidelines calling for 0-6 months, defense lawyers said. Judges often reduce that to probation for first-time offenders.

Messrs. Sloane and Semprevivo and Ms. Huffman all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors are recommending a prison sentence of one year and one day for Mr. Sloane, and 18 months for Mr. Semprevivo, because of the large sums they admitted to paying Mr. Singer.

They recommended four months for Ms. Huffman. She admitted to paying Mr. Singer $15,000 to help doctor her daughter’s SAT score.

Gregory Brower, a defense attorney not involved in the case and a former U.S. Attorney for Nevada, said parents who plead but don’t serve time still face repercussions. “Becoming a convicted felon is no small thing,” he said.

A ruling favorable to defendants could influence how parents who have pleaded not guilty proceed. Some may opt to take their cases to trial, figuring they have nothing to lose. Others may want to cut deals and end their pricey legal fights.

Updated: 9-13-2019

Felicity Huffman Faces Sentencing in College-Admissions Cheating Scheme

Actress admitted to paying William ‘Rick’ Singer $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT score.

Actress Felicity Huffman is slated to be sentenced Friday afternoon for her role in the college-admissions cheating scheme, kicking off the penalty portion for the 15 parents who have pleaded guilty.

Ms. Huffman pleaded guilty in May to a fraud conspiracy charge, admitting to paying college counselor William “Rick” Singer $15,000 so he could arrange for a test proctor in his employ to fraudulently inflate her older daughter’s SAT score in 2017. Ms. Huffman almost repeated the scheme with her younger daughter, but ultimately didn’t pursue the plan, according to court documents.

Prosecutors have asked that Ms. Huffman be imprisoned for one month, then given one year of supervised release and fined $20,000, arguing that she defrauded the SAT creator and administrator, the College Board and Educational Testing Service, and sought to defraud colleges by having her daughter submit the bogus scores.

Prosecutors said probation or home confinement wouldn’t be a meaningful punishment for a woman who lives in a large Hollywood Hills house with an infinity pool, and a fine at the high end of guidelines “would amount to little more than a rounding error” for a woman of her means.

Ms. Huffman’s legal team has asked the judge to sentence her to one year of probation, 250 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine, saying her conduct was out of character and she was repentant.

Prosecutors have identified the testing agencies and colleges as victims in the sprawling case, but the federal probation office has so far determined no victim suffered any financial loss. In that interpretation, each defendant would under the federal sentencing guidelines face the same zero-to-six-month prison term regardless of the size of payments to Mr. Singer. Judges often reduce that time to probation for white-collar defendants without prior records.

Prosecutors argue that when victims’ losses can’t be clearly broken down by defendant, the sentencing guidelines allow the amount gained by the perpetrator—in this case, the conspiracy led by Mr. Singer—to serve as a proxy. They are asking for prison time based on the payments and bribes, requesting that defendants who shelled out larger sums face much longer sentences.

The judge issued a written order Friday saying she found no reason to increase the base offense levels beyond what would lead to sentences in the zero-to-six-month range, but noted her final sentence “will be determined with consideration of all the factors” allowed, keeping open the option for harsher sentences for particular defendants.

“Her efforts weren’t driven by need or desperation, but by a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness, facilitated by wealth and insularity,” prosecutors said of Ms. Huffman in a court filing last week.

Ms. Huffman painted a different picture of her motivations. She hired Mr. Singer on the recommendation of a friend, she said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani, and used his legitimate tutoring for her older daughter for nearly a year before beginning discussions about the fraud. She did so after Mr. Singer painted a bleak picture of the girl’s chances at performing-arts schools, saying even a stellar audition couldn’t cancel out a poor test score.


“I felt an urgency which built to a sense of panic that there was this huge obstacle in the way that needed to be fixed for my daughter’s sake,” she said in the letter. “As warped as this sounds now, I honestly began to feel that maybe I would be a bad mother if I didn’t do what Mr. Singer was suggesting.”

In interviews with The Wall Street Journal, several former clients and families who considered hiring Mr. Singer described him as a person who preyed on their anxieties, dismissing the teens’ strengths and convincing parents they needed his help to gain admission to top schools.

Mr. Singer pleaded guilty to four felonies: racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of justice.

Though prosecutors say a number of parents lied to get their children diagnosed with learning disabilities, using a clinician recommended by Mr. Singer to secure extra time on their college-entrance exams, both of Ms. Huffman’s daughters were diagnosed years earlier with such issues. The older one has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and the younger one has dyslexia.

In recommending a sentence at the low end of the zero-to-six-month range laid out in her plea agreement, prosecutors acknowledged Ms. Huffman’s “nearly immediate acceptance of responsibility.”

Updated: 9-14-2019

Felicity Huffman Gets 14 Days in Prison for Role in College-Admissions Scheme

Actress admitted to paying William ‘Rick’ Singer $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT score.

Actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced Friday to 14 days in prison for her role in the college-admissions cheating scheme, sending a strong signal that more of the wealthy parents in the sprawling scandal could expect to serve time.

The actress was the first parent to be sentenced, and the result is a middle ground between prosecutors’ recommendation of one month in prison and her attorneys’ request for one year of probation, 250 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.

Prosecutors had argued anything less than incarceration for her and the 10 other parents slated for sentencing in coming weeks would be a “penological joke.”

Ms. Huffman was also sentenced to one year of supervised release, 250 hours of community service and a $30,000 fine, with a federal judge saying that despite all her advantages, “You took the step of obtaining one more advantage to put your child ahead of theirs.”

Ms. Huffman pleaded guilty in May to a fraud-related conspiracy charge, admitting to paying college counselor William “Rick” Singer $15,000 so he could arrange for a test proctor in his employ to fraudulently inflate her older daughter’s SAT score in 2017. Ms. Huffman almost repeated the scheme with her younger daughter, but ultimately didn’t pursue the plan, according to court documents.

Ms. Huffman showed little reaction to the decision. After court was adjourned, her husband, the actor William H. Macy, rose from his seat in the courtroom gallery and went up to rub her shoulders.

Ms. Huffman said in a written statement afterward that she accepts the court’s decision “without reservation,” adding, “I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.”

In a lengthy address before her punishment was announced, Ms. Huffman apologized to U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in front of a courtroom packed with media and defense attorneys for some of the other 33 parents charged in the case, as well as Ms. Huffman’s family and friends.

Her voice cracking on occasion, she said she has returned in her mind regularly to the time she drove her older daughter to the SAT testing site in December 2017. “I thought to myself, ‘Turn around. Just turn around,’” she said, choking up. “To my eternal shame, I didn’t.”

Judge Talwani spoke about the larger unfairness in the college admissions system, noting the role of donations and legacy status in admissions, preferential treatment for athletes, and the opportunity to get additional time for standardized tests. She said that is why this case had angered so many members of the public.

“The outrage is a system that is already so distorted by money and privilege in the first place,” she said.

Ms. Huffman’s relatively short prison sentence may not be indicative of punishments to be assigned to other parents who have pleaded guilty in the case, as she paid the least money of any parent in the scheme, admitted her guilt early and didn’t participate in all elements of the fraud.

She will report to prison on Oct. 25.

Prosecutors have asked for prison terms of up to 15 months for the parents whose sentencings are scheduled for this fall. In total, 15 parents have pleaded guilty on a conspiracy-related fraud charge.

Inside Courtroom 9, Ms. Huffman also described the rupture in her family since her arrest, saying her older daughter has asked why she didn’t believe in the girl, and crushing her with the comment, “I don’t know who you are anymore.”

Ms. Huffman, in filings by her attorneys before her sentencing hearing, painted a different picture of her motivations. She hired Mr. Singer on the recommendation of a friend, she said in a letter to Judge Talwani, and used his legitimate tutoring for her older daughter for nearly a year before beginning discussions about the fraud. She did so after Mr. Singer drew a bleak picture of the girl’s chances at performing-arts schools, saying even a stellar audition couldn’t cancel out a poor test score.

“I felt an urgency which built to a sense of panic that there was this huge obstacle in the way that needed to be fixed for my daughter’s sake,” she said in the letter. “As warped as this sounds now, I honestly began to feel that maybe I would be a bad mother if I didn’t do what Mr. Singer was suggesting.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen argued in court Friday that plenty of parents feel insecure and anxious, yet they don’t resort to cheating. “Welcome to parenthood,” he said.

Judge Talwani also wasn’t entirely moved. “Trying to be a good mother doesn’t excuse this,” she said. Yet, she also noted that Ms. Huffman had clearly accepted responsibility and had shown remorse.

“Felicity knows she has a lot of work ahead of her to heal her family and win back the trust of the public, her colleagues and friends,” said a person close to her. “She hopes the public will give her a second chance.”


The judge’s sentence indicated that she is taking a variety of factors into account as she looks at the parents, not only the dispute about sentencing guidelines that has dogged the case. Prosecutors have identified the testing agencies and colleges as victims in the sprawling case, but the federal probation office so far has determined no victim suffered any financial loss.

Judge Talwani issued a written order Friday saying she found no reason to increase the base offense levels beyond what would lead to sentences in the zero-to-six-month range. That level is often lowered to probation for first-time offenders, but the judge noted her final sentence “will be determined with consideration of all the factors” allowed, keeping open the option for harsher sentences for particular defendants. Sentencing guidelines are advisory only.

Though she paid the least of any parent, Ms. Huffman, the “Desperate Housewives” and “American Crime” star, has become a key public face of the $25 million scam, with authorities saying the mothers and fathers represented a “catalog of wealth and privilege.”

Mr. Singer pleaded guilty to four felonies: racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of justice.

Updated: 9-24-2019

Father In College-Admissions Case Sentenced To Four Months Prison, $95,000 Fine

‘You were an active participant,’ judge tells Devin Sloane, rebuffing argument that college counselor lured him into the scheme.

A Los Angeles business executive was sentenced to four months in prison in the nationwide college-admissions cheating case Tuesday, a signal by the judge handling the cases of parents who have pleaded guilty that she likely intends to impose more than just symbolic terms of incarceration as punishment.

In a federal court in Boston, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani also ordered Devin Sloane to pay a $95,000 fine, complete 500 hours of community service and be subject to two years of supervised release.

Speaking broadly about the case, Judge Talwani indicated she was troubled by parents saying they were guided by a desire to do what was best for their children. The case wasn’t about basic caretaking like providing food or even access to higher education, the judge said. Rather, she said, the wealthy mothers and fathers seemed focused on particular, exclusive colleges.

Judge Talwani said they should ask themselves, “Are they doing that for their children or are they doing it for their own status?”

Mr. Sloane admitted to paying $250,000 to have William “Rick” Singer get his son into the University of Southern California as a fake water polo player. The judge ordered Mr. Sloane to report to federal prison on Dec. 3.

Judge Talwani focused heavily during the sentencing hearing on the people she said were the real ones hurt in the fraud—other students who wanted to go to USC but weren’t admitted because Mr. Sloane’s son got a spot instead—and questioned whether the father fully understood the harm caused by his actions.

Mr. Sloane, the 53-year-old founder of a water-treatment company, apologized to his family, friends and colleagues before Judge Talwani handed down the sentence. “There are no words to justify my behavior nor will I offer any excuses or justifications,” he said. “I take complete responsibility.”

“Some people see this as a case of privilege and arrogance,” he added. “I think about this a lot, and it repulses me.”

Prosecutors have argued that some prison is warranted for each parent, but have portrayed the prominent mothers and fathers as having varying levels of culpability, based on the amount of bribes, whether they involved their children, tried to hide their participation, and other factors.

The parents in the admissions case are likely to get less time than the government wants in part because probation officials found that the crimes didn’t cause direct identifiable financial harm to the victims, described by the government as universities and testing agencies.

Judge Talwani adopted the probation department’s recommendation for sentencing guidelines of zero to six months. But those guidelines aren’t mandatory, and she has said she would weigh other factors.

Mr. Sloane is the second of 15 parents who have pleaded guilty to be sentenced. Earlier this month Judge Talwani imposed a 14-day prison sentence on actress Felicity Huffman for paying $15,000 to participate in a test-cheating scheme. Next up, on Thursday, is Stephen Semprevivo, who admitted to paying $400,000 to get his son into Georgetown University as a phony tennis recruit.

The government asked for one year and a day in prison for Mr. Sloane, as well as a year of supervised release and a $75,000 fine. His lawyers asked for time served, three years supervised release, 2,000 hours of community service and a $75,000 fine, saying Tuesday that the shame brought on Mr. Sloane by the publicity of the case had served as one deterrent from future criminal activity.

Judge Talwani said the fine “should feel punitive,” and questioned why community service should be considered a sufficient penalty, since Mr. Sloane and his friends and family discussed in letters to the court how he already enjoyed volunteering. She called his lawyer “tone deaf” at one point as he discussed the community-service plan.

Mr. Sloane’s lawyers said their client accepted responsibility but also said Mr. Singer preyed on the father’s anxiety about where his son would end up at school. In a memo to the court before the sentencing, the lawyers called Mr. Singer “a master manipulator, sociopath, fraudster, and felon,” and said he lured Mr. Sloane into the conspiracy.

Judge Talwani wasn’t moved by that argument. “Why does it matter in my sentencing that someone invited him to do this crime?” she asked one of Mr. Sloane’s lawyer, Nathan Hochman.

Later, she admonished Mr. Sloane directly: “You were an active participant.”

Prosecutors said Mr. Sloane engaged in the fraud for months, involved his son, and lied to USC and the boy’s high-school guidance counselor to cover his tracks.

They recounted how Mr. Sloane bought water-polo equipment, a Speedo and a cap with an Italy flag for the teen to wear for a staged photo in the family’s backyard pool—using a graphic designer to doctor the picture so it appeared the teen was playing in an international tournament. The son’s application falsely said he was a perimeter player for the Italian junior national team.

“Some kid out there didn’t get to go to USC because of the defendant,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen said Tuesday. “That lesson has been completely lost on the defendant.”

Updated: 10-3-2019

Lawyer Gordon Caplan Sentenced To One Month In Prison In College-Admissions Case

‘Shame and humiliation haunt me,’ Caplan said.

Gordon Caplan, the former co-chairman of law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, was sentenced Thursday to one month in prison for his role in the college admissions cheating scheme, as the federal judge overseeing the cases of parents who have pleaded guilty continued to distinguish between parents who were involved in the testing scheme and those who bribed coaches to secure spots at particular colleges.

Mr. Caplan admitted to paying corrupt college counselor William “Rick” Singer $75,000 for a test proctor to fix his daughter’s ACT score in December.

In federal court here, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani repeated that she felt the test-cheating helped families package their teens more competitively for colleges, while the athletics prong of the fraud was a more serious, direct attempt to buy admission.

Judge Talwani noted that unlike some other defendants Mr. Caplan didn’t involve his daughter, didn’t submit falsified materials to any colleges, and accepted responsibility for his crime, but that prison for Mr. Caplan was still fair as it would deter others from similar fraudulent conduct in the future.

She also ordered Mr. Caplan to pay a $50,000 fine, complete 250 hours of community service and be subject to one year of supervised release. He is the fourth parent to be sentenced in the sprawling case, which so far has led to charges against 52 individuals. Other sentences have ranged from 14 days in prison for Felicity Huffman to four months, for Stephen Semprevivo and Devin Sloane.

“This whole episode was at least in large part my own ambition for my daughter going to school,” Mr. Caplan said in the courtroom here Thursday, more than a dozen friends and family in the gallery behind him. “I lost sight of what it means to be a good father, as I obviously did not act in the best interest of my daughter.”

He Will Report To Prison Nov. 6.

He said his wasn’t a victimless crime and, his voice wavering at times, apologized for contributing to a narrative about college admissions being unfair and tilted in favor of the privileged.

“Shame and humiliation haunt me,” Mr. Caplan said.

Prosecutors had requested eight months in prison, a $40,000 fine and 12 months of supervised release for Mr. Caplan, saying his stature in the legal profession made his crime even more egregious and adding that he pursued a relationship with Mr. Singer specifically for the purpose of cheating.


“Caplan did not step gingerly over the line,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memo to the judge last week. “He jumped at the opportunity the moment it was offered to him.”

Mr. Caplan’s lawyers asked the judge for no more than 14 days in prison, as well as community service, supervised release and a fine, likening his case to Ms. Huffman’s and noting in a memo last week that he quickly pleaded guilty and publicly accepted responsibility for his criminal behavior.

Joshua Levy, a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP who represented Mr. Caplan in court Thursday, said there were six weeks between the time Mr. Singer first mentioned the testing scheme and when Mr. Caplan signed on.

He also said Mr. Caplan turned down the “side door” coach-bribing scheme and an offer to have one of Mr. Singer’s employees take online courses on his daughter’s behalf.

Mr. Caplan’s lawyers said Mr. Caplan’s career as a top private equity attorney crumbled the day the charges were announced, with a 2018 American Lawyer “Dealmaker of the Year” now anticipating the loss of his law license. He was placed on leave from Willkie Farr the day he was charged, and later resigned. A number of past clients and colleagues, including Willkie Farr’s chairman and partners at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, Goodwin Procter LLP and other top firms, wrote letters to the judge on his behalf.


Prosecutors highlighted transcripts of recorded phone calls as illustrations of Mr. Caplan’s brazen disregard of right and wrong, as the esteemed lawyer told Mr. Singer he was “not worried about the moral issue” of cheating.

Judge Talwani said Mr. Caplan did draw a line, albeit not in the right place, as he didn’t bribe any coaches when offered the option.

Updated: 10-19-2019

More Parents Plan to Plead Guilty in College Admissions Cheating Case

In advance of expected new charges, three parents are scheduled to admit to participating in testing, athletics bribery schemes.

Another group of parents charged in the college admissions cheating scandal said they planned to plead guilty, a move that comes in advance of expected new charges against holdouts.

Two parents on Friday and another on Thursday said they would join 15 other parents who have already pleaded guilty, and are now in the sentencing phase. Sentences for those parents have ranged from probation to five months, lighter than some had expected, which also could have helped push this batch of three more parents to take deals.

With the new pleas, more than half of the 35 parents charged will have admitted guilt. Seventeen are still fighting allegations that they worked with the scheme’s confessed ringleader, William “Rick” Singer, to rig SAT and ACT scores or bribe coaches to falsely tag the teens as recruited athletes.

A total of 52 people have been charged since March in connection with the sprawling case, including college coaches, testing site administrators and employees of Mr. Singer. In all, 27 people have pleaded guilty or indicated plans to do so.

The relatively short prison terms may be driving other parents to reconsider going to a jury trial, where they could get more severe punishments, people familiar with the matter said. Some defense lawyers have also been concerned the government could bring additional charges as soon as next week against those who pleaded not guilty to the original allegations, the people said. Those charges could be related to alleged bribery of individuals at colleges that receive federal funding, according to these people.

A spokeswoman from the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts declined to comment.

Three parents are now scheduled to appear in federal court here to plead guilty to fraud conspiracy and money-laundering conspiracy charges on Monday: Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of bond manager Pacific Investment Management Co.; Manuel Henriquez, who until his arrest led specialty finance firm Hercules Capital Inc. ; and Michelle Janavs, whose family wealth comes from Chef America Inc., the company that created Hot Pockets microwavable snacks.

Mr. Hodge’s plan to plead was announced Thursday.

Mr. Henriquez was charged along with his wife, Elizabeth. Her attorneys didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The Atherton, Calif., couple allegedly paid Mr. Singer, a college counselor, to fraudulently boost their older daughter’s SAT test scores and younger daughter’s ACT and SAT subject test scores. Prosecutors say they also used Mr. Singer’s help to bribe a Georgetown University tennis coach to tag the older daughter as a tennis recruit, even though she wasn’t a competitive player. They participated in the illegal scheme with him between 2015 and 2017, prosecutors say, and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the services.

Ms. Janavs, of Newport Coast, Calif., allegedly paid Mr. Singer to arrange for Mark Riddell, a corrupt proctor, to fix ACT scores for both her daughters and worked with him to bribe employees at the University of Southern California to secure one daughter’s admission as a beach volleyball recruit. The younger daughter took her test just weeks before Ms. Janavs was arrested.

Separately on Friday, California real estate developer Robert Flaxman was sentenced to one month in prison and a $50,000 fine for participating in the testing scheme for his daughter.

“If they’re pretty sure a judge isn’t going to sentence them to jail,” said one of the lawyers representing a party who has pleaded not guilty, “they are more likely to plead [guilty].” Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,Key Ingredient In College-Admissions,

 

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