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August 25, 2019

‘A really smart guy’: Meet man accused of taking tests on behalf of rich students

March 13, 2019
Mark Riddell, 36, lives in Palmetto, a city in Manatee County, Florida. He is the director of college entrance exam preparation at IMG Academy in Bradenton, south of Tampa. (Obtained by the New York Daily News)

Mark Riddell was a test-taking whiz.

The 36-year-old Palmetto, Fla., resident was the director of college entrance exam preparation at IMG Academy, a prestigious prep school that he attended between 1995 and 2000.

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But authorities say Riddell also took exams in place of students or would correct their answers after exams were handed to test administrators — allegedly making $10,000 for each student’s test.

Riddell, one of the 50 people charged this week in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme, did not know what was going to be on each exam. He was “just a really smart guy,” U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said Tuesday.

“He was just smart enough to get a near perfect score on demand or to calibrate the score,” Lelling said.

The Harvard University grad and former pro tennis player — he went 0-10 in low-level tournaments from 2003 to 2005, the Associated Press reports — was expected to appear in court Wednesday, charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, honest services mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Authorities said he worked directly with William Rick Singer, founder of a college preparation business in California and considered the leader of the scam.

Singer would discuss with his clients what kind of score they wanted their child to get without raising any red flags, court records show.

“So if your daughter took the SAT on her own the first time and got a particular score, (when) retaking the exam, if the score goes up too much that would invite scrutiny” Lelling said. “So Singer would discuss with parents what kind of score was impressive, but not too impressive, and then would instruct Riddell to attempt to get that score and he was just good enough to do it.”

In one case from July 2018 detailed in court filings, Singer was discussing a deal with a client for his or her child when the child became sick and was not able to fly to Houston to take the exam, which was going to be corrected by Riddell. Singer then arranged for Riddell to take the test himself, which he did from his hotel room.

Riddell wasn’t accused in the court filings of taking or fudging tests for IMG Academy students, but a now-deleted profile on the school’s website speaks to his test preparation skills.

“His knowledge of test preparation, tutoring prowess, athletic background, and experience as a former IMG Academy student make him an important mentor for IMG Academy students,” the school wrote.

The profile highlights Riddell’s talents in helping students gain admission to Stanford, Duke, Columbia, Dartmouth, University of Chicago “and many other notable institutions.”

Stanford was among the schools connected to the scheme, authorities say.

IMG Academy released a statement after authorities announced the charges against Riddell, writing that “Riddell has been suspended indefinitely as we investigate this matter.”

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