BOSTON – The mastermind of a nationwide college admissions bribery scheme that targeted celebrities, prominent businessmen and other parents who used their wealth and privilege to buy their children’s way into top schools was sentenced Wednesday to 3 1/2 years in prison.
The sentence of Rick Singer, 62, is the longest sentence handed down in the sweeping scandal that has embarrassed some of the nation’s most prestigious universities and put a spotlight on a secretive admissions system already seen as rigged to favor the wealthy.
Prosecutors sought a six-year sentence, citing Singer’s extensive cooperation in helping authorities unravel the scheme. Singer began working undercover with investigators in 2018 and recorded hundreds of phone calls and meetings that helped authorities build a case against dozens of parents, sports coaches and others arrested in March 2019.
Housewives actress Lori Laughlin, her designer husband Mossima Giannulli and Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman are among those jailed for their part in the scheme. Coaches from schools including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of California, Los Angeles admitted to accepting bribes.
“It was a scheme that was breathtaking in its scale and audacity. She literally became the stuff of books and TV movies,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank told the judge Wednesday.
The prosecutor called Singer’s cooperation in the case “unprecedented” but said it was also problematic, noting that Singer admitted to obstructing the investigation by tipping off several of his clients who were under government scrutiny.
Attorney Candice Fields said Singer took great personal risk by wearing a wire to record the meetings and “did whatever was necessary” to help the government’s investigation. Fields asked for three years of probation or, if the judge deems prison time necessary, six months behind bars.
The singer apologized to his family, the schools he embarrassed in the public eye, and others. He also promised to work every day of his life to make a positive impact on people’s lives.
“My moral compass was warped by the lessons my father taught me about competition. I accepted his belief that embellishing or even lying to win is acceptable as long as there is a win. I should have known better,” he said.
The singer pleaded guilty in 2019 — the same day the massive case became public — to charges including racketeering and money laundering conspiracy. Dozens of others eventually pleaded guilty to the charges, while two parents were convicted at trial.
Authorities in Boston began investigating the scheme after an executive under scrutiny for securities fraud told investigators that a Yale football coach had offered to help his daughter get into school in exchange for money. A Yale coach led authorities to Singer, whose cooperation unraveled the entire scheme.
Over the years, Singer paid admissions administrators or proctors to inflate students’ test scores and bribed coaches to designate applicants as recruits to increase their chances of getting into the school.
Coaches in sports such as football, sailing and tennis were bribed to pretend they were recruiting students to be athletes, regardless of their ability. Fake sports profiles were created to make students look like stars in sports they sometimes didn’t even play. The bribes were usually channeled through Singer’s shell charity, which allowed some parents to disguise the payments as charitable donations and deduct the payments from their federal income taxes.
According to prosecutors, Singer received more than $25 million from his clients, gave bribes totaling more than $7 million and used more than $15 million of his clients’ money for his own benefit.
“This defendant was responsible for the most massive fraud ever perpetuated in the system of higher education in the United States,” Frank told the judge Wednesday.
Before Singer, former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for more than $3 million in bribes.
Sentences for the parents ranged from probation to 15 months behind bars, although the father who received that prison sentence remains free while he appeals his sentence.
One parent, who was not charged with cooperating with Singer, was acquitted of all charges that he bribed Ernst to get his daughter into the school. And a judge ordered a new trial for former USC water polo player Jovan Vavic, who was convicted of accepting bribes.
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Rick Singer, the mastermind of a college admissions scam, was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison
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