Arrests Made in Nationwide College Admissions Scam: Alleged Exam Cheating & Athletic Recruitment Scheme Defendants include CEOs, actresses, university athletic coaches, and college exam administrators

BOSTON – 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 this morning 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 (“The Key”) – 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.   

  1. College Entrance Exam Cheating Scheme

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.

  • College Recruitment Scheme

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.

  • Tax Fraud Conspiracy

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.

Appendix

  1. William Rick Singer, 58, of Newport Beach, Calif., owner of the Edge College & Career Network and CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation, was charged in an Information with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice.  He is scheduled to plead guilty in Boston before U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel on March 12, 2019, at 2:30 p.m.;
  2. Mark Riddell, 36, of Palmetto, Fla., was charged in an Information with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering;
  3. Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, 51, of Madison, Conn., the former head women’s soccer coach at Yale University, was charged in an Information with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud as well as honest services wire fraud;  
  4. John Vandemoer, 41, of Stanford, Calif., the former sailing coach at Stanford University, was charged in an Information with racketeering conspiracy and is expected to plead guilty in Boston before U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel on March 12, 2019, at 3:00 p.m.;
  5. David Sidoo, 59, of Vancouver, Canada, was charged in an indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Sidoo was arrested on Friday, March 8th in San Jose, Calif., and appeared in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California yesterday. A date for his initial appearance in federal court in Boston has not yet been scheduled.  

The following defendants were charged in an indictment with racketeering conspiracy:

  • Igor Dvorskiy, 52, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., director of a private elementary and high school in Los Angeles and a test administrator for the College Board and ACT;
  • Gordon Ernst, 52, of Chevy Chase, Md., former head coach of men and women’s tennis at Georgetown University;
  • William Ferguson, 48, of Winston-Salem, N.C., former women’s volleyball coach at Wake Forest University;
  • Martin Fox, 62, of Houston, Texas, president of a private tennis academy in Houston;
  • Donna Heinel, 57, of Long Beach, Calif., the senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California;
  • Laura Janke, 36, of North Hollywood, Calif., former assistant coach of women’s soccer at the University of Southern California;
  • Ali Khoroshahin, 49, of Fountain Valley, Calif., former head coach of women’s soccer at the University of Southern California;
  • Steven Masera, 69, of Folsom, Calif., accountant and financial officer for the Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation;
  • Jorge Salcedo, 46, of Los Angeles, Calif., former head coach of men’s soccer at the University of California at Los Angeles;
  • Mikaela Sanford, 32, of Folsom, Calif., employee of the Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation;
  • Jovan Vavic, 57, of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., former water polo coach at the University of Southern California; and
  • Niki Williams, 44, of Houston, Texas, assistant teacher at a Houston high school and test administrator for the College Board and ACT.

The following defendant was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud:

  1. Michael Center, 54, of Austin Texas, head coach of men’s tennis at the University of Texas at Austin

The following defendants were charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud:

  1. Gregory Abbott, 68, of New York, N.Y., the founder and chairman of a food and beverage packaging company;
  2. Marcia Abbott, 59, of New York, N.Y.;
  3. Gamal Abdelaziz, 62, of Las Vegas, Nev., the former senior executive of a resort and casino operator in Macau, China;
  4. Diane Blake, 55, of San Francisco, Calif., an executive at a retail merchandising firm;
  5. Todd Blake, 53, of San Francisco, Calif., an entrepreneur and investor;
  6. Jane Buckingham, 50, of Beverly Hills, Calif., the CEO of a boutique marketing company;
  7. Gordon Caplan, 52, of Greenwich, Conn., co-chairman of an international law firm based in New York City;
  8. I-Hin “Joey” Chen, 64, of Newport Beach, Calif., operates a provider of warehousing and related services for the shipping industry;
  9. Amy Colburn, 59, of Palo Alto, Calif.;
  10. Gregory Colburn, 61, of Palo Alto, Calif.;
  11. Robert Flaxman, 62, of Laguna Beach, Calif., founder and CEO of real estate development firm;
  12. Mossimo Giannulli, 55, of Los Angeles, Calif., fashion designer;
  13. Elizabeth Henriquez, 56, of Atherton, Calif.;
  14. Manuel Henriquez, 55, of Atherton, Calif., founder, chairman and CEO of a publicly traded specialty finance company;
  15. Douglas Hodge, 61, of Laguna Beach, Calif., former CEO of investment management company;
  16. Felicity Huffman, 56, of Los Angeles, Calif., an actress;
  17. Agustin Huneeus Jr., 53, of San Francisco, Calif., owner of wine vineyards;
  18. Bruce Isackson, 61, of Hillsborough, Calif., president of a real estate development firm;
  19. Davina Isackson, 55, of Hillsborough, Calif.;
  20. Michelle Janavs, 48, of Newport Coast, Calif., former executive of a large food manufacturer; 
  21. Elisabeth Kimmel, 54, of Las Vegas, Nev., owner and president of a media company;
  22. Marjorie Klapper, 50, of Menlo Park, Calif., co-owner of jewelry business;
  23. Lori Loughlin, 54, of Los Angeles, Calif., an actress;
  24. Toby MacFarlane, 56, of Del Mar, Calif., former senior executive at a title insurance company;
  25. William McGlashan Jr., 55, of Mill Valley, Calif., senior executive at a global equity firm;
  26. Marci Palatella, 63, of Healdsburg, Calif., CEO of a liquor distribution company;
  27. Peter Jan Sartorio, 53, of Menlo Park, Calif., packaged food entrepreneur;
  28. Stephen Semprevivo, 53, of Los Angeles, Calif., executive at privately held provider of outsourced sales teams;
  29. Devin Sloane, 53, of Los Angeles, Calif., founder and CEO of provider of drinking and wastewater systems;
  30. John Wilson, 59, of Hyannis Port, Mass., founder and CEO of private equity and real estate development firm;
  31. Homayoun Zadeh, 57, of Calabasas, Calif., an associate professor of dentistry; and
  32. Robert Zangrillo, 52, of Miami, Fla., founder and CEO of private investment firm.

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