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Man Behind 'Varsity Blues' College Admissions Bribery Scandal Sentenced To Nearly Four Years

Rick Singer pleaded guilty in March 2019 to taking and offering bribes to help children of wealthy parents obtain admission into universities for which they otherwise might not have qualified. 

By Caitlin Schunn
Shocking Fraud and Scam Cases

The man who admitted to being the mastermind of a $25 million nationwide college admissions scandal was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in federal court in Boston on Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Rya Zobel sentenced William “Rick” Singer, 62, to 42 months in prison and three years of supervised release for his part in the scheme, according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department.

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All told, 55 people, including coaches, parents and even higher education administrators, were accused of participating in the "Varsity Blues" scheme to get students into elite colleges using bribery and cheating, according to the Justice Department. Of those, 53 were convicted by a guilty plea or jury trial.

“Full House” star Lori Laughlin and "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman were among the parents who pleaded guilty and served time for paying thousands of dollars to Singer, who marketed himself as a college admissions consultant.

Rick Singer G

“Rick Singer was the architect of a sprawling criminal enterprise that corrupted the admissions process at several of the nation’s most elite universities,” U.S. attorney Rachel Rollins said in the release. “His decade-long scheme resembled something out of a Hollywood movie. He courted the entitled, rich and famous, who were so desperate for their children to secure college admission that they lied, cheated and bribed to get them in.”

In March 2019, Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of justice.

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Singer founded “The Key” — Key Worldwide Foundation — in Sacramento in the 1990s. His first internet videos showed him as an admissions guru offering services to help get kids into college, like test preparation, essay help and coaching, according to an episode of “American Greed,” as reported on Oxygen.com.

"Rick Singer was the first person Sacramento had seen who presented himself as an education consultant. We had never heard of that profession," educational consultant Margie Amott told "American Greed."

In 2012, Singer moved his business from Sacramento to Newport Beach, California — known for its wealthy residents — and expanded his business.

He offered side doors for student college admissions, according to “American Greed,” letting parents pay thousands to have test scores fixed or to pass off their child as an athletic recruit by having Singer pay off coaches. He even admitted to lying about students' ethnicities and backgrounds to improve their chances of getting into elite colleges.

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To conceal the scheme, Singer used the “Key Worldwide Foundation” to disguise bribe payments as charitable contributions, allowing clients to write off the bribes on their federal income taxes. In total, Singer accepted more than $25 million from his clients as part of the scheme, according to the Department of Justice. He paid out bribes totaling more than $7 million and then transferred, spent or otherwise used more than $15 million for his own benefit.

He ultimately wore a wire and served as a “cooperating witness” to expose the parents allegedly paying for his services, Oxygen.com reported in March 2019.

At sentencing, the judge also ordered Singer to pay restitution of more than $10.6 million to the Internal Revenue Service and to forfeit specific assets worth more than $5.3 million as well as another $3.4 million in financial instruments.  

“Access to a quality education is a key pillar of our society and the American institutions that are educating our future leaders are second to none,” Joleen Simpson, Special Agent in charge of the IRS’s Criminal Investigations in Boston, said in the release. “But maintaining fairness in the access to these great institutions is also a vital part of this system.”

To date, the government has collected from all the defendants more than $8.8 million in forfeitures from bank accounts, real estate and voluntary payments, more than $5.6 million in fines and more than $96,900 in restitution, according to the Justice Department.

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