The former Orange County college admissions consultant who orchestrated the “Varsity Blues” nationwide bribery scheme to get teenage children of wealthy and famous parents into the nation’s top colleges was sentenced in a Massachusetts court on Wednesday to 42 months behind bars.
William “Rick” Singer, 62, the mastermind of the scheme that ensnared coaches, business executives, and celebrities—and ultimately shined a light on the inequality that permeates the college admissions process at top U.S. schools—learned of his sentence in a federal court in Boston. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Singer, who prosecutors say, “is far and away the most culpable of the Varsity Blues defendants,” took in more than $25 million in bribe payments from clients like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman in the long-running and audacious plot involving cheating on college entrance exams, falsifying academic records, and paying off coaches at elite schools, including Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest, and Georgetown, among others.
In the packed courtroom, Judge Rya W. Zobel also imposed three years of supervised release on Singer following the completion of his prison sentence and that he pay upwards of $10 million in restitution to the IRS; additionally, Singer must forfeit millions of dollars in assets.
On Wednesday, Singer traveled from the Florida trailer park where he told the court he lives “moderately” to Boston, where more than 50 of Singer’s co-defendants in his nationwide criminal enterprise have been prosecuted.
“Rick Singer was the architect of a sprawling criminal enterprise that corrupted the admissions process at several of the nation’s most elite universities. His decade-long scheme resembled something out of a Hollywood movie. He courted the entitled, rich and famous, who were so desperate for their children to secure college admission, that they lied, cheated and bribed to get them in,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins, adding that the case laid bare the failings of admissions into elite colleges. “There should not be a separate college admissions process for the rich, powerful and entitled. This case exposed that there is. But it also resulted in meaningful changes in the college admissions process and I am incredibly proud of that.”
Singer owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network LLC—also known as the Key—a for-profit college counseling and preparation business. He served as CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation, a non-profit corporation that he purported was a charity for disadvantaged teens; these were the same children cheated out of spots at elite universities.
The business and the charity acted as a cover as Singer conspired with dozens of parents, athletic coaches, a university athletics administrator, and others to bribe the unqualified into top schools.
“The conspiracy involved paying off test proctors and administrators to permit cheating on college entrance exams and bribing university athletic coaches and administrators to designate applicants as purported athletic recruits based on fabricated credentials,” prosecutors said.
Ahead of his sentencing, Singer pleaded for leniency in a written statement filed by the court, saying: “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.”
Prosecutors recommended a six-year sentence for Singer, citing his attempts to undermine his government handlers by tipping off unnamed clients that he’d agreed to wear a wire and record their phone conversations. Despite those efforts to shield his clients from the law, prosecutors heard guilty pleas or got convictions in the cases of 53 of the 55 defendants charged.
One of the defendants convicted of paying Singer to get his daughter into USC later received a pardon from outgoing President Donald Trump. Robert Zangrillo, who ran a private investment firm in Miami, paid for a spot on the USC crew team for his daughter, who was not an athlete. Trump pardoned Zangrillo before he went to trial as other high-profile parents, including actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, served brief sentences in federal prison.
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