College admissions scam mastermind set to be sentenced for role in Operation Varsity Blues

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William "Rick" Singer was the mastermind of the nationwide college admissions cheating scandal.

CNN  — 

William “Rick” Singer, the mastermind of the sprawling college admissions scam aptly known as Operation Varsity Blues, is set to be sentenced in a federal courthouse in Boston on Wednesday, nearly four years after the scandal was publicly exposed.

Singer was the central figure in the scam in which wealthy parents, desperate to get their children into elite universities, paid huge sums to cheat on standardized tests, bribe university coaches who had influence over admissions and then lie about it to authorities.

Singer pleaded guilty at the time to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the US and obstruction of justice, and he agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation.

Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence him to six years in prison and pay over $19 million in fines and asset forfeitures. Singer’s attorneys have asked for probation with home detention and community service.

Singer was one of over 50 people charged in the case in March 2019, including prominent CEOs and the actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. With only a few exceptions, almost all of them pleaded guilty and served prison terms generally measured in weeks or months.

Singer is one of the last people to be sentenced in the case, which rocked the world of higher education and showed, not for the first or last time, how rich people use their wealth and means to help their children game the college admissions system.

He was the owner of the college counseling and prep business known as “The Key” and the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation, the charity connected to it.

Through those organizations, Singer carried out his scheme to get the children of wealthy parents into top universities. His plan had two major parts: Facilitate cheating on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT, and bribe college coaches and administrators to falsely designate the children as recruited athletes, even if they didn’t play that sport.

In a June 2018 conversation with one parent, he referred to his plan as a “side door” into college, according to court documents.

“There is a front door which means you get in on your own. The back door is through institutional advancement, which is 10 times as much money. And I’ve created this side door in,” Singer said.

To conceal the payments, he or an employee directed the parents to give money to the Key Worldwide Foundation as a charitable donation, the indictment states. Some of that money was then used to pay test administrators or coaches as part of the scheme, prosecutors said.

andrew lelling college cheating presser

How the alleged college admission scheme worked

02:46 - Source: CNN

Out on bail since his guilty plea, Singer, 62, has been living in a St. Petersburg, Florida, trailer park for seniors, according to his sentencing memo.

He told the court that he takes responsibility for his actions and feels shame for them.

“I have been reflecting on my very poor judgment and criminal activities that increasingly had become my way of life. I have woken up every day feeling shame, remorse, and regret,” Singer wrote in a recent court submission ahead of his sentencing. “I acknowledge that I am fully responsible for my crimes.”

In reflecting on the scheme that cost him his own wealth, he attributes his motivations to a fierce competitive drive to “win at all costs.”

“By ignoring what was morally, ethically, and legally right in favor of winning what I perceived was the college admissions ‘game,’ I have lost everything,” Singer wrote.

His attorneys asked the court for a comparatively lenient three-year term of probation including 12 months of home detention plus 750 hours of community service.

“Alternatively, if incarceration is deemed necessary, the purposes of sentencing will be satisfied with a six-month sentence followed by a three-year term of supervised release that includes community service,” the defense team’s sentencing memo says.

Prosecutors in their respective sentencing memo acknowledged Singer’s cooperation with the government as “historical” and “hugely significant.” For several months prior to the public announcement of Operation Varsity Blues, Singer turned over online communications and documents, voluntarily recorded phone calls with clients and associates and wore a wire in person with several individuals.

Still, his cooperation was not perfect, according to prosecutors.

Singer “not only obstructed the investigation by tipping off at least six of his clients,” the sentencing memo says, “but also failed to follow the government’s instructions in other ways, including by deleting text messages and using an unauthorized cell phone.”

Given the “problematic” cooperation, prosecutors say, the “most culpable participant” in the scheme should serve six years in prison as a deterrent to future temptation for Singer.

“Singer will undoubtedly face circumstances and opportunities that require him to choose between right and wrong. A substantial term of incarceration is critical to remind him of the consequences of crossing that line, and necessary to protect society from his wrongdoing,” prosecutors wrote.

Singer funneled the money he collected from the admissions scheme through a fake charity in which clients disguised payments as “charitable contributions” that conveniently doubled as a tax break for the parents paying their children’s way into top schools.

Prosecutors alleged Singer took in more than $25 million from the clients, paid bribes totaling more than $7 million and transferred, spent or otherwise used more than $15 million of his clients’ money for himself.

Prosecutors have also asked the court to mandate Singer pay the IRS more than $10.6 million in restitution, a $3.4 million monetary forfeiture, in addition to a forfeiture of some assets valued at more than $5.3 million.

He has already paid $1,213,000 toward the anticipated $3.4 million money forfeiture judgment from the proceeds of the sale of his residence, according to court documents. He hasn’t been able to get a job while on pretrial release thanks to the case’s national media attention, according to his sentencing memo.

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