Rick Singer, at center of college admission scandal, faces sentencing
BOSTON - The former college admissions consultant who orchestrated a breathtaking scheme to get the children of wealthy parents into highly selective colleges through bribery, cheating on the SAT and ACT, and fake athletic credentials was sentenced Wednesday to three and a half years in prison for crimes he committed in what became known as the "Varsity Blues" scandal.
William "Rick" Singer, 62, lured clients with promises to open what he called the "side door" into schools such as the University of Southern California and Yale, Stanford and Georgetown universities. They could pose as recruited athletes, he said - perhaps in water polo, soccer, pole vaulting or tennis - and secure special treatment in admissions. They could also obtain fake SAT or ACT scores through a test-cheating enterprise. The whole scheme was lubricated with bribes, prosecutors said, funneled through sham charities.
U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel sentenced Singer on Wednesday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Boston, nearly four years after the scandal broke. In addition to the 42-month term, Zobel sentenced Singer to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay millions of dollars in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. He is expected to report to prison on Feb. 27.
Singer, tanned and dressed in a dark suit, showed little emotion in court Wednesday as he read a statement of apology to affected families, universities, the FBI, prosecutors and his own friends and family.
After prosecutors revealed charges in the Varsity Blues case in 2019, it turned out to be the most significant admissions corruption scandal in the modern history of higher education, with revelations that embarrassed prominent universities. More than 50 parents, university athletic officials and other participants have been convicted. "Fraud on an industrial scale," the government called it.
Two parents who pleaded guilty were actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Huffman was sentenced to two weeks in prison for her role in a conspiracy to inflate the SAT score of her older daughter, and Loughlin received a two-month prison sentence for her part in a conspiracy to get her daughters into USC with fake competitive-rowing credentials. Loughlin's husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, received a five-month sentence.
Singer was at the center of it all, and his sentence was the heaviest so far in the dozens of Varsity Blues cases.
Gordon Ernst, a former tennis coach at Georgetown, was sentenced in July to two and half years in prison for taking bribes to boost the chances for admission for Singer's clients. That is now the second-longest prison term to result from the scandal.
Singer started cooperating with federal investigators in September 2018 after they confronted him. Singer's help was crucial, prosecutors said, in obtaining emails, recordings of conversations and other evidence that helped build cases against participants in the scam.
In March 2019, Singer pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors say he was "involved in paying dozens upon dozens of bribes totaling millions of dollars."
Prosecutors acknowledged that his cooperation proved "hugely significant" to the investigation, but they argued in a sentencing memorandum that Singer should receive a six-year prison term. They said he had tipped off some potential targets who had participated in the conspiracy or were planning to.
"He was the architect and mastermind of a criminal enterprise that massively corrupted the integrity of the college admissions process - which already favors those with wealth and privilege - to a degree never before seen in this country," Rachael S. Rollins, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, wrote in the memo.
Prosecutors also recommended three years of supervised release and an order for Singer to forfeit assets traceable to the crimes - worth millions of dollars - and pay more than $10 million in restitution to the IRS.
Singer's attorneys, Candice L. Fields and A. Neil Hartzell, argued in a memorandum to the court that he should be sentenced to three years of probation, including 12 months of home detention and 750 hours of community service. If the judge deemed incarceration necessary, they wrote, the prison term should be no more than six months.
"Whatever may be said about Rick's crimes, his cooperation has led to important reforms at great cost to his own safety and reputation," the attorneys wrote. They added that Singer has "boundless energy and ideas about programming for youth and the underserved. He would be an asset to society if permitted after sentencing to continue his community service efforts. As a man with little interest in wealth, he hopes to atone for his crimes through service to others."
Singer's consulting business, called The Key, had been based in California, but recently he has lived in a trailer park in St. Petersburg, Fla. He has not testified in any of the Varsity Blues trials, according to the sentencing memos, and has struggled to find work. His attorneys wrote that he is willing to relocate anywhere in the United States "and is already in discussions with a Reverend from Hot Springs, Arkansas to introduce his concepts there." The concepts, they wrote, involve "skill-advancement programs" for a "myriad of consumers."
In a statement to the court written in November, Singer expressed sorrow "for the pain I caused the students and their families, and the universities and testing agencies." He pledged to atone for his crimes.
"I can only hope that, once I have served whatever sentence the Court determines is appropriate, the terms of my supervised release will allow me to work/volunteer in service to others and particularly to underserved youth," he wrote.