The mastermind of the wide-reaching and decade-long scheme to help wealthy parents cheat their teenage kids into the nation’s best colleges and universities—a fraud dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by the federal prosecutors who sent dozens of wealthy celebrities, CEOs, and coaches to prison for their roles in the fraud—will learn the length of his prison term on Wednesday morning.
William “Rick” 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. Following these crimes, phony athletic recruitment letters would be sent to the rich kids offering them coveted spaces as freshmen. Singer’s nationwide network of corrupt test officials, college administrators, and complicit coaches revealed a staggering system of the wealthy taking unearned spots in elite universities through bribery and fraud.
“Singer developed a massive criminal enterprise, purpose-built to execute such fraud on an industrial scale,” prosecutors wrote. “He found demand in his wealthy and overprivileged clients, and helped stoke it by convincing them that their children would not be admitted to their college of choice without using his illicit services.”
The Santa Monica native, who lost the Newport Beach mansion where he lived, now lives “a reclusive, humbled existence” in a St. Petersburg, Florida trailer park, his lawyer Candace Fields told the court in a sentencing memorandum, adding that his “unwanted notoriety has left him unemployable, depriving him of his self-esteem.”
From Florida, Singer filed a letter to the court pleading for leniency.
“For most of my life, if not all of it, I have thrived on winning at all costs. My moral compass was broken and, increasingly over time, choosing right over wrong became less important than doing whatever had to be done to be recognized as the “best.” Through all of my scheming and the fallout from it, the fact has been obscured that my greatest joy is and has always been helping kids,” he wrote in a letter to Massachusetts U.S. District Court Justice Rya Zobel, who oversaw Operation Varsity Blues prosecutions.
Operation Varsity Blues began with a tip in an unrelated investigation that the women’s soccer coach at Yale, Rudy Meredith, accepted bribes in exchange for college admissions slots for unqualified athletes who were Singer’s clients. Detectives on that case approached Singer on September 21, 2018, and he immediately agreed to wire up and record conversations with his co-conspirators, according to a sentencing memo submitted by the government.
However, prosecutors say Singer tried to finagle a double-deal while feigning cooperation with the government’s investigation. According to the state, Singer secretly tipped off six of his high-profile clients using a dump phone that the feds were onto their crimes; those clients who he’d informed were not named.
“In those communications, Singer instructed the co-conspirators to cease their criminal activity,” prosecutors said and warned them that he was wired, which could have led to an additional charge of obstruction of justice.
Singer’s attorneys are balking at that assertion, saying in a court filing that Singer’s efforts spanned almost six months, “during which he served at the government’s beck and call. He engaged in four formal proffer sessions with federal prosecutors (both in California and Florida), took part in hundreds of preparation calls with agents, placed approximately 1,600 monitored calls with targets, participated in more than 20 in-person, wired meetings (sometimes at personal risk due to the target’s background of wealth and power).”
All of that, Singer argues, should persuade a judge to let him remain a free man, or sentence him to house arrest.
“I have been (rightly) judged by family, friends, and professional community, I will be permanently notorious as the “mastermind of Varsity Blues,” and I will probably also lose my liberty upon being sentenced for my crimes,” he wrote.
If the government gets its recommended sentence, Singer will likely be sentenced to at least six years in federal prison.
Out of the 57 total defendants charged in the investigation, 53 have been convicted, either by a guilty plea or jury conviction, according to federal prosecutors. Of the 57 defendants, four went to a jury trial and one of those four was acquitted. Two of these other cases have pending appeals and one was granted a new trial in September.
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