Rick Singer, the mastermind of the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal that federal prosecutors say was “breathtaking in its audacity and levels of deception it involved,” was sentenced Wednesday to three-and-a-half years in prison.
It’s the longest sentence in the scandal, but short of the six years requested by prosecutors.
Singer, a 62-year-old businessman from Newport Beach, California, had pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The scandal, which involved people such as “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, helped deep-pocketed parents get their often undeserving kids into some of the nation’s most selective schools with bogus test scores and athletic credentials.
“It was a scheme that was breathtaking in its scale and its audacity. It has literally become the stuff of books and made-for-TV movies,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank told the judge Wednesday.
“My moral compass was warped by the lessons my father taught me about competition,” he said. “I embraced his belief that embellishing or even lying to win was acceptable as long as there was victory. I should have known better.”
Prior to the sentencing, federal prosecutors were pushing for Singer to be put behind bars for six years, followed by 36 months of supervised release. They also wanted the judge to order “restitution to the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of $10,668,841, forfeiture of specific assets with a value in excess of $5.3 million, and a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of approximately $3.4 million.”
They described Singer as 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.
“He found demand in his wealthy and overprivileged clients and helped to stoke it by convincing them that their children would not be admitted to the college of their choice without using his illicit services,” the prosecutors wrote. “Likewise, he established a network of corrupt test proctors and administrators who were willing to permit cheating to supplement their income, and college athletic coaches and administrators who were willing to sell their recruitment slots to bolster their fundraising efforts, their salaries, or both.
“All of these players were integral to the scheme’s success,” they added, “but without Singer, the scheme never would have happened.”
Singer began secretly cooperating with investigators and worked with the FBI to record hundreds of phone calls and meetings before the arrest of dozens of parents and athletic coaches in March 2019. More than 50 people were ultimately convicted in the case authorities dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.
In a letter to the judge, Singer blamed his actions on his “winning at all costs” attitude, which he said was caused in part by suppressed childhood trauma. His lawyer had requested three years of probation, or if the judge deems prison time necessary, six months behind bars.
“By ignoring what was morally, ethically, and legally right in favor of winning what I perceived was the college admissions ‘game,’ I have lost everything,” Singer wrote.
Authorities blew the lid off the scandal after an executive under investigation for an unrelated securities fraud scheme told investigators that a Yale soccer coach had offered to help his daughter get into the school in exchange for cash. The Yale coach led authorities to Singer, whose cooperation unraveled the sprawling scheme.
For years, Singer paid off entrance exam administrators or proctors to inflate students’ test scores and bribed athletic coaches to designate applicants as recruits for sports they sometimes didn’t even play, seeking to boost their chances of getting into the school. Singer took in more than $25 million from his clients, paid bribes totaling more than $7 million, and used more than $15 million of his clients’ money for his own benefit, according to prosecutors.
So far, the toughest punishment in relation to the scandal went to former Georgetown University tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who got 2 1/2 years in prison for pocketing more than $3 million in bribes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.