The former women’s soccer coach at Yale University is among 50 people who have been indicted in a vast college admissions scam the government says was carried out by unscrupulous college officials, a crooked admissions consultant and wealthy parents willing to pay bribes to get their children into some of the nation’s top universities.
Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admissions to elite schools, said Andrew E. Lelling, the U.S. Attorney in Boston.
The college admissions system was literally rigged against students who worked hard, got good grades and engaged in community service who sought admission to elite colleges and universities, Lelling said Tuesday in announcing the indictments. The FBI called the investigation “Operation Varsity Blues” and said about 300 FBI and IRS agents arrested 46 people on Tuesday.
“There will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy," Lelling said. "And there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.“
Bribes were paid and frauds committed to gain admission for students to colleges such as Boston University, Yale University, Boston College, Northeastern University, Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, the University of California San Diego, the University of California Los Angeles, Wake Forest University, Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin.
The government called William “Rick” Singer, 58, of Newport Beach, California, the mastermind of the scheme. He ran a college counseling and preparation business called The Edge College and Career Network LLC, which was known as The Key, and the nonprofit Key Worldwide Foundation, which the government says was nothing more than a sham organization that laundered the millions Singer’s company took in. Singer, who cooperated with federal agents during the investigation, is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering and other crimes.
In once instance, according to the court documents, Singer accepted a $1.2 million payment from a parent to secure a students’ admission to Yale.
In addition to the coaches, college officials and consultant, 33 parents were indicted for their role in the scheme, Lelling said. They include the actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, CEOs, other wealthy business people, and Gordon R. Caplan of Greenwich, co-chairman of the global law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in New York. Caplan has not responded to a request for comment.
"All of them knowingly conspired with Singer and others to help their children either cheat on the ACT or Sat and or buy their children’s admission to elite schools through fraud.
The universities and colleges were victims of the fraud, Lelling said.
“As the indictment makes clear, the Department of Justice believes that Yale has been the victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women’s soccer coach,” Yale spokesman Thomas Conroy said Tuesday. “The university has cooperated fully in the investigation and will continue to cooperate as the case moves forward.”
Longtime Yale coach Rudy Meredith, who resigned in November, is accused of accepting a $400,000 check from the family of a Yale applicant he ensured would be admitted to the university as part of the women’s soccer team, according to court documents. Meredith, who is accused of working in concert with Singer, has agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud, honest services wire fraud, and conspiracy and has been cooperating with the government’s investigation since April 2018 with the hope of receiving leniency when he is sentenced, according to the government.
“Beginning in or about 2015, Meredith agreed with Singer and others known and unknown to the United States Attorney to accept bribes in exchange for designating applicants to Yale as recruits for the Yale women’s soccer team, and thereby facilitating their admission to the university, in violation of the duty of honest services he owed to Yale as his employer," according to court documents.
The applicant’s family paid Singer and his associated businesses about $1.2 million as part of the scheme, according to court documents.
That applicant did not play competitive soccer and Singer is accused of preparing a phony athletic profile to be used during the admissions process that made the student appear to be a co-captain of a prominent club soccer team in southern California.
Meredith agreed to secure a spot at Yale for another applicant in exchange for $450,000 from the applicant’s father, according to court documents.
The two men are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.
Meredith, who lived in Madison, resigned from Yale in November and said he was leaving to after 24 years “to explore new possibilities and begin a different chapter in my life.”
Caplan, the Greenwich resident and lawyer in New York, is accused of paying Singer to help his daughter achieve a top score on the ACT, a college entrance exam, by having her purport to have a learning disability.
Caplan paid $75,000 last December to ensure that his daughter would get the desired score on the ACT, according to the indictment.
“I’m particularly interested in working with you guys and figuring out what’s best for [my daughter]. She’s an interesting kid,’’ Caplan said during a conversation that FBI agents, working with a cooperating witness, had wiretapped.
During the recorded phone conversation, the witness reassured Caplan that the deal was “the homerun of homeruns. What happened is, all the wealthy families that figured out that if I get my kid tested and they get extended time, they can do better on the test. So most of these kids don’t even have issues, but they’re getting time. The playing field is not fair.”
The cooperating witness said he had helped dozens of wealthy families through the scheme.
According to the indictment and the cooperating witness, Singer’s clients were instructed “to seek extended time for their children on college entrance exams … by having the children purport to have learning disabilities.
“Once the students were granted extended time—which generally allowed them to take an exam over two days instead of one, and in an individualized setting,’’ the students were directed to take exam at a test center he “controlled.”
The test center administrators were bribed to allow a third party “to take the exams in place of the actual students” and to make sure answers were correct.
Despite assurances – and the fact that he eventually went through with the scheme – Caplan was nervous about getting caught in wiretapped conversations.
“What I’m asking is, is there any way for this to get back to [my daughter] or to the family? I mean, this comes out -- I -- I don’t even want to know what you guys do.”
Conspiracy charges were also brought against coaches at schools including Wake Forest University, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.
Authorities say the coaches accepted bribes in exchange for admitting students as athletes, regardless of their ability. Colleges typically allot admissions slots to athletic teams/
Prosecutors say parents paid $25 million to Singer and his companies from 2011 through Febuary 2019 and that he used the money to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes in order to boost their chances of getting into the elite schools.
Prosecutors allege that fake athletic profiles were also made to make students look like strong high school or club athletes when they did not actually participate in the sports.
Authorities say the consulting company also bribed people paid to administer college entrance exams to allow a Florida man to take the tests on behalf of students or replace their answers with his.