The long running US college admission fraud scandal is finally drawing to a close, and the man behind it all – William ‘Rick’ Singer – will soon face his day of reckoning. Over a decade, Singer executed a huge criminal scheme, using fraud and bribery to secure the admission of US high school students to prestigious colleges and universities across the US.
Singer used his college counselling and preparation business, ‘The Key’, and a non-profit entity, ‘The Key Worldwide Foundation’, to commit his crimes. He got his clients’ kids into their chosen colleges by bribing test proctors and administrators to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams, and paying off college athletic coaches to confirm prospective students as athletes based on fake credentials.
Singer took over US$25 million in payments from his wealthy clients, paid out more than US$7 million in bribes, and kept at least US$15 million for himself.
The scheme was uncovered in 2018 by a US law enforcement operation called ‘Operation Varsity Blues’. When Singer was approached by law enforcement agents in September of that year he agreed to cooperate with the investigation, including by recording phone calls.
Operation Varsity Blues led to the conviction of more than 50 parents, university sport coaches, and other individuals associated with Singer. Their sentences ranged from probation to 30 months in jail. Among those convicted and imprisoned were actresses Lori Loughlin, and Felicity Huffman.
Singer’s criminal college admission scheme also spawned a Netflix documentary, starring Matthew Modine as Singer, which was released in March 2021.
Singer pled guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
In documents filed in the United States District Court of Massachusetts on 28 December 2022, the United States Attorney 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.
The US Attorney also reflected on the risk management challenges faced by educational institutions:
It is difficult for universities, and criminal authorities, to detect and prevent such fraud. While Operation Varsity Blues has caused universities across the country to institute unprecedented reforms aimed at curtailing the abuses that occurred here, there is ultimately no surefire way to safeguard against criminal ingenuity. Loopholes – and those willing to exploit them for money – will remain. Singer’s sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who might consider picking up where he left off.
In conclusion, the US Attorney requested the court impose the following sentence on Singer:
- 72 months imprisonment, followed by 36 months of supervised release,
- 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
- forfeiture of money in the amount of approximately $3.4 million.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for 4 January 2023.
Update – 4 January 2023
In a sentencing hearing on Wednesday, 4 January, at the federal courthouse in Boston before U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank told the judge that Singer’s scheme:
was breathtaking in its scale and its audacity. It has literally become the stuff of books and made-for-TV movies…This defendant was responsible for the most massive fraud ever perpetuated on the higher education system in the United States.
Her Honour sentenced Singer to three and a half years in prison.
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