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Arrests Made in Nationwide College Admissions and Athletic Recruitment Scam

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Photo: AP / Damian Dovarganes

FBI Press Release |

Dozens of individuals involved in a nationwide conspiracy that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and the admission of students to elite universities as purported athletic recruits were arrested by federal agents in multiple states and charged in federal court in Boston. Athletic coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown, among others, are implicated, as well as parents and exam administrators. 

William “Rick” Singer, 58, of Newport Beach, Calif., was charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Singer owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network LLC – a for-profit college counseling and preparation business – and served as the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF) – a non-profit corporation that he established as a purported charity.

Between approximately 2011 and February 2019, Singer allegedly conspired with dozens of parents, athletic coaches, a university athletics administrator, and others, to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of students to colleges and universities including Yale University, Georgetown University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and Wake Forest University, among others. Also charged for their involvement in the scheme are 33 parents and 13 coaches and associates of Singer’s businesses, including two SAT and ACT test administrators.  

Also charged is John Vandemoer, the head sailing coach at Stanford University, Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, the former head soccer coach at Yale University, and Mark Riddell, a counselor at a private school in Bradenton, Fla. 

The conspiracy involved 1) bribing SAT and ACT exam administrators to allow a test taker, typically Riddell, to secretly take college entrance exams in place of students or to correct the students’ answers after they had taken the exam; 2) bribing university athletic coaches and administrators—including coaches at Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Southern California, and the University of Texas—to facilitate the admission of students to elite universities under the guise of being recruited as athletes; and (3) using the façade of Singer’s charitable organization to conceal the nature and source of the bribes. 

According to the charging documents, Singer facilitated cheating on the SAT and ACT exams for his clients by instructing them to seek extended time for their children on college entrance exams, which included having the children purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain the required medical documentation. Once the extended time was granted, Singer allegedly instructed the clients to change the location of the exams to one of two test centers: a public high school in Houston, Texas, or a private college preparatory school in West Hollywood, Calif. At those test centers, Singer had established relationships with test administrators Niki Williams and Igor Dvorskiy, respectively, who accepted bribes of as much as $10,000 per test in order to facilitate the cheating scheme. Specifically, Williams and Dvorskiy allowed a third individual, typically Riddell, to take the exams in place of the students, to give the students the correct answers during the exams, or to correct the students’ answers after they completed the exams. Singer typically paid Ridell $10,000 for each student’s test. Singer’s clients paid him between $15,000 and $75,000 per test, with the payments structured as purported donations to the KWF charity. In many instances, the students taking the exams were unaware that their parents had arranged for the cheating.

It is further alleged that throughout the conspiracy, parents paid Singer approximately $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators to designate their children as purported athletic recruits, thereby facilitating the children’s’ admission to those universities. Singer allegedly described the scheme to his customers as a “side door,” in which the parents paid Singer under the guise of charitable donations to KWF. In turn, Singer funneled those payments to programs controlled by the athletic coaches, who then designated the children as recruited athletes – regardless of their athletic experience and abilities. Singer also made bribe payments to most of the coaches personally.

For example, during a call with one parent, Singer stated: “Okay, so, who we are…what we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school…My families want a guarantee. So, if you said to me ‘here’s our grades, here’s our scores, here’s our ability, and we want to go to X school’ and you give me one or two schools, and then I’ll go after those schools and try to get a guarantee done.” 

As part of the scheme, Singer directed employees of The Key and the KWF to create falsified athletic “profiles” for students, which were then submitted to the universities in support of the students’ applications. The profiles included fake honors that the students purportedly received and elite teams that they purportedly played on.  In some instances, parents supplied Singer with staged photos of their children engaged in athletic activity – such as using a rowing machine or purportedly playing water polo.

Beginning around 2013, Singer allegedly agreed with certain clients to disguise bribe payments as charitable contributions to the KWF, thereby enabling clients to deduct the bribes from their federal income taxes. Specifically, Singer allegedly instructed clients to make payments to the KWF in return for facilitating their children’s admission to a chosen university. Singer used a portion of that money to bribe university athletic coaches to designate the children as student athletes. Thereafter, Masera or another KWF employee mailed letters from the KWF to the clients expressing thanks for their purported charitable contributions. The letter stated: “Your generosity will allow us to move forward with our plans to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth,” and falsely indicated that “no good or services were exchanged” for the donations. Many clients then filed personal tax returns that falsely reported the payment to the KWF as charitable donations.

The charge of racketeering conspiracy provides for a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater and restitution. The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of not more than $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the money laundering. The charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of obstruction of justice provides for a sentence of no greater than 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, and of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, provide for a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of 250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; and Kristina O’Connell, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations in Boston, made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric S. Rosen, Justin D. O’Connell, Leslie Wright, and Kristen A. Kearney of Lelling’s Securities and Financial Fraud Unit are prosecuting the case.

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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