Stanford sailing program implicated in college fraud scheme

The FBI and federal prosecutors have uncovered a massive bribery scheme to get students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes and help them cheat on college entrance exams to gain admission.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston said the scheme includes nearly four dozen people, including actresses and CEOs, who paid as much as $6 million to get their children into schools such as Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, Texas, Wake Forest and Yale.

The nine coaches and sports administrators indicted were Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, former Yale women’s soccer coach; Donna Heinel, USC senior associate athletic director; Ali Khosroshahin, former USC women’s soccer coach; Jovan Vavic, USC women’s water polo coach; William Ferguson, Wake Forest volleyball coach; John Vandemoer, Stanford sailing coach; Michael Center, Texas men’s tennis coach; Jorge Salcedo, UCLA men’s soccer coach; and Gordie Ernst, former men’s and women’s tennis coach at Georgetown. Ernst was hired last year to coach women’s tennis at Rhode Island.

Federal prosecutors in Boston charged William “Rick” Singer, 58, with running the racketeering scheme through his Edge College & Career Network. His network served a roster of clients including actresses and chief executives.

Prosecutors said Singer’s operation arranged for fake testers to take college admissions exams in place of his clients’ children, and also bribed coaches to give admissions slots meant to be reserved for recruited athletes even if the applicants had no athletic ability.

Parents paid tens of thousands of dollars for his services, which were masked as charitable contributions, prosecutors said.

Singer pleaded guilty in Boston federal court to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering, tax conspiracy, and obstruction of Justice. His sentencing is scheduled for June 19 in which he faces a maximum of 65 years in prison and a $1.25m dollar fine.

Former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer arrives at federal court in Boston. PHOTO: AP

Vandemoer, 41, (above) pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials. He had been accused of accepting payments for two applicants, falsifying documents for their eligibility into the Stanford sailing program. In his plea agreement, prosecutors and his attorney agreed to recommend a prison sentence of 18 months.

Vandemoer said in court that he didn’t pocket money that he was given, using it instead to help fund the Stanford sailing team. Stanford University announced that Vandemoer had been fired.

“Stanford has been cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation and is deeply concerned by the allegations in this case,” school officials said in a statement. “The university and its athletics programs have the highest expectations of integrity and ethical conduct. The head coach of the Stanford sailing team has been terminated.”

On a call with a wealthy parent, prosecutors said, Singer summed up his business thusly: “What we do is help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school … my families want a guarantee.”

The scheme began in 2011, prosecutors said, and also helped children get into the University of Texas, Georgetown University, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Part of the scheme involved advising parents to pretend to test administrators that their child had learning disabilities that allowed them extended time to take the exam.

The parents were then advised to choose one of two test centres that Singer’s company said they have control over: one in Houston, Texas, and the other in West Hollywood, California.

The test administrators in the those centres took bribes to allow Singer’s clients to cheat, often by arranging to have a student’s wrong answers corrected after completing the exam or having another person take the exam.

In many cases, the students were not aware that their parents had arranged for the cheating, prosecutors said.

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