Published 8:13 PM EDT Mar 12, 2019
The California man behind the nation’s largest admissions bribery scandal didn't just help his clients falsify test scores and fake athletic achievements.
In many cases, admissions consultant William Singer used Photoshop or passed off photos of others -- all with the knowledge of parents who paid Singer hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudulently get their children into top colleges like Georgetown, Stanford, Yale and Southern Cal, according to federal court records unsealed on Tuesday.
“I’m gonna make him a kicker/punter and they’re gonna walk him through with football,” Singer said in a voicemail left with Bill McGlashan, a private equity firm executive who was seeking to get his son into Southern California. “I’ll get a picture and figure out how to Photoshop and stuff, so it looks like it, and the guy who runs the biggest kicking camp is a good friend.”
McGlashan’s son wasn’t a kicker or punter. In fact, his high school didn’t even have a football team.
Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin: What feds allege they did, what happens next
None of that mattered, because Singer had “ins” among plenty of coaches and one administrator. Thirty-three parents – including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin – were charged in the scheme that reaped Singer more than $25 million over the past decade. As part of Singer’s illegal service, he facilitated payouts to school administrators, coaches and ACT/SAT administrators, according to the criminal complaint.
While Singer allegedly worked with coaches, his go-to administrator was allegedly Donna Heinel, USC’s senior associate athletic director. According to the complaint, she received more than $1.3 million in bribes and pushed through the admissions of several Singer clients.
Southern Cal announced Tuesday afternoon that both Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who allegedly received a $250,000 in payouts, "have been terminated and the university will take additional employment actions as appropriate."
Former Southern Cal assistant women’s soccer coach Laura Janke and the school's former head women's soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin were also charged.
"We are aware of the ongoing wide-ranging criminal investigation involving universities nationwide, including USC," Southern Cal said in a statement. "USC has not been accused of any wrongdoing and will continue to cooperate fully with the government’s investigation."
Heinel was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine that could be in the millions. Heinel also allegedly facilitated some of the money paid by Singer’s clients to go to various Southern Cal funds.
Stanford announced Tuesday it had terminated head sailing coach John Vandemoer after his conspiracy to commit racketeering charge was announced.
"Stanford has been cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation and is deeply concerned by the allegations in this case," Stanford said in the statement. "The university and its athletics programs have the highest expectations of integrity and ethical conduct."
Wake Forest said in a statement that women’s volleyball coach Bill Ferguson was placed on administrative leave by the school after his racketeering charge was unsealed Tuesday. Texas announced men's tennis coach Michael Center was also placed on leave after he was indicted for conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Former Yale head women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith, who is a cooperating witness, was also charged in the case.
“The head women’s soccer coach at Yale, in exchange for $400,000, accepted an applicant as a recruit for the Yale women’s soccer team despite knowing the applicant didn’t even play competitive soccer,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Andrew E. Lelling, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “The student was admitted and afterward, the student’s parents paid Singer $1.2 million for that service.”
Former Georgetown head tennis coach Gordie Ernst received $950,000 in payments between September 2015 and November 2016 in exchange for admitting the daughter of finance executive Manuel Henriquez and "several other students," according to the court documents.
Henriquez's daughter's application claimed she was ranked in the Top 50 in United States Tennis Association junior girls rankings from her sophomore year of high school. The charging documents, however, noted she "appears to have ranked 207th in Northern California in the under-12 girls division, with an overall win/loss record of 2‐8."
Ernst was placed on leave in December 2017 after the school's admission's office "identified irregularities in his recruitment practices" and launched an investigation, Georgetown said in a statement. "The investigation found that Mr. Ernst had violated University rules concerning admissions, and he separated from the University in 2018. ... The University was not aware of any alleged criminal activity or acceptance of bribes by Mr. Ernst until it was later contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office."
Lelling said “with the exception of one USC administrator,” that “schools were not involved” in the scheme.
“The coaches were allotted slots for athletic recruitment,” Lelling said. “Coaches worked with Singer, meaning they accepted bribes. Singer gave coaches sufficiently impressive fake athletic credentials. The coaches used those fake athletic profiles to convince everyone internally that this was a good recruit for the team.”
The students did not take athletic scholarships, Lelling said. Instead, they used potential walk-on slots to bolster their admission chances. No students were charged as part of the scam and, according to the court documents, their parents did their best to keep their children from knowing of the scheme.
Singer, a cooperating witness, was charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Singer said he created fake profiles “a million times,’’ according to the complaint.
“What Singer was good at doing was calibrating the fake credentials to appear realistic and not so impressive to invite suspicion or additional scrutiny,” Lelling said.
It was clear in the more than 100 pages of the criminal complaint that there was a market for parents willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to fake everything – even if the parents didn’t make his job easy at times.
“Last year, I had a boy who did the water polo, and when his dad sent me the picture, he was way, way too high out of the water,” Singer said in a wiretapped phone conversation. “I said to the dad, ‘What happened?’ He said he was standing at the bottom of the pool.”