February 6, 2023

College fraud mastermind Rick Singer to be sentenced

BOSTON (AP) — The mastermind behind a nationwide college admissions bribery scheme Celebrities, prominent businessmen and other parents who used their wealth and privileges to get their children into top schools were sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on Wednesday.

Punishment for Rick SingerThe 62 was the longest sentence handed down in the wider scandal, which has embarrassed some of the country’s most prestigious universities and drawn attention to a secretive admissions system already seen as rigged to favor the wealthy.

Prosecutors sought six years in prison, citing Singer’s extensive cooperation that helped authorities unravel the entire scheme. Singer began working undercover with investigators in 2018 and recorded hundreds of phone calls and meetings that helped authorities build cases against dozens of parents, athletic trainers and others arrested in March 2019.

“Full House” actor Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli were among those sent to prison for participating in the scheme.and “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman. Coaches at schools including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and UCLA have admitted to taking bribes.

“The conduct of this case is straight out of a Hollywood movie,” Massachusetts US Attorney Rachel Rollins told reporters after the sentencing.

Singer was ordered to pay more than $10 million to the IRS and forfeit millions more in cash and property to the government. He ordered him to appear in jail in February.

Prosecutors noted that while Singer’s cooperation helped authorities secure the convictions of several defendants, he also admitted to obstructing investigations by informing on many of his clients who were under government surveillance. He was not called as a witness by the government in the cases that went to trial.

In asking for leniency for Singer, defense attorney Candice Fields told the judge that her client took a personal risk by wearing a wire to record meetings for investigators and “did what was necessary” to help the government. Fields had requested three years of probation, or six months of pretrial detention if the judge deems jail time necessary.

Fields said the trial gained the notoriety it did because “dozens of influential and sometimes celebrity defendants were prosecuted” and only because of Singer.

The singer apologized to his family, the schools he embarrassed in the public eye and the students he worked with over the years. He vowed to spend his entire life working to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

“My moral compass was distorted by the lessons my father taught me about competition. I accepted his belief that embellishing or even lying was acceptable as long as there was success. I should have known better,” he said.

Singer pleaded guilty in 2019 — the same day the massive case became public — to charges including racketeering conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Dozens of others eventually pleaded guilty, while two parents were convicted at trial.

Authorities in Boston began investigating the scheme after an executive came under investigation for an unrelated securities fraud scheme. The Yale soccer coach told investigators he offered to help his daughter attend school in exchange for money. Yale took coaching officials to Singer, whose cooperation sparked the entire program.

Over the years, Singer paid admissions administrators or coaches to boost students’ test scores and bribed coaches to hire applicants to increase their chances of getting into the school.

Coaches in sports like football, rowing and tennis took bribes to recruit students regardless of their ability. Fake sports profiles are created to make students look like stars in sports they sometimes don’t play. The bribes were typically obtained through Singer’s bogus charity, allowing some parents to deduct the money from their federal income taxes by disguising the payments as charitable donations.

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, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank told the judge that failure to impose a substantial prison sentence would send a “devastating message of fraud and obstruction of justice.”

“This defendant is responsible for the largest fraud ever committed in higher education in the United States,” Frank said.

Before Singer, former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst received severe punishment.He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for taking more than $3 million in bribes.

Sentences for parents range from probation to 15 months behind bars, although the convicted parent remains free to appeal his sentence.

A parent who was not charged with working with Singer was acquitted of all charges stemming from allegations that he bribed Ernst to enroll her daughter in school. A judge has ordered a new trial for former University of Southern California water polo coach Jovan Vavik. Convicted for bribery.