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Businessman Who Staged Photos Of Son Playing Water Polo Gets 4 Months In Admissions Scandal
Prosecutors said Devin Sloane's conduct was worse than "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman's, while he told the judge he grew up in poverty and asked for leniency.
A Los Angeles business executive was sentenced Tuesday to four months imprisonment for paying $250,000 to get his son admitted to the University of Southern California as a fake water polo recruit.
Devin Sloane, 53, pleaded guilty in May to a single count of fraud and conspiracy in a deal with prosecutors. He is the second parent to be sentenced in a sweeping college admissions scandal that has ensnared dozens of wealthy parents.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani also ordered Sloane to 500 hours of community service over two years of supervised release and a fine of $95,000.
Authorities say Sloane helped fabricate documents depicting his son as an international water polo star even though he had never played the sport. He bought water polo gear online, investigators found, and staged action photos of his son in the family's swimming pool.
Prosecutors recommended a year and a day in prison, along with a $75,000 fine and a year of supervised release. A weighty sentence was necessary, they said, because of the "unusual lengths" Sloane undertook in pursuing the deception.
His lawyers asked for three years of supervised release, a $75,000 fine and 2,000 hours of community service. They said Sloane was prepared to perform the service by starting a new Special Olympics program at private schools across the country.
In a Sept. 14 letter asking for leniency, Sloane called himself a "dedicated family man" who grew up in poverty and was only trying to help his son avoid the same "emotional pain" he experienced as a child.
Sloane is a graduate of USC and founder of the Los Angeles water systems company AquaTecture.
"There are no words to justify my behavior nor will I offer any excuses or justification," he said with tears in his eyes during Tuesday's sentencing. "The crime I committed is unacceptable. ... In my heart and my soul I want what's best for my son. I realize now my actions were the antithesis of that."
He was accused of paying $200,000 to a sham charity operated by William "Rick" Singer, an admissions consultant at the center of the scheme, and $50,000 to an account controlled by Donna Heinel, a former USC athletics official. Sloane previously said he accepts responsibility for his crime but also argued he was drawn into the scheme by Singer, who Sloane says provided a year of legitimate counseling before mentioning his "side-door" bribery scheme.
In a Sept.17 court filing, Sloane's lawyers said he was "targeted, manipulated and slowly and deliberately lured into the conspiracy by Singer, a world-class schemer and manipulator."
Singer pleaded guilty in March and agreed to work with authorities in hopes of receiving a lenient sentence. Heinel is accused of accepting bribes to get students admitted as fake athletic recruits. She has pleaded not guilty.
Last week, "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman became the first parent to be sentenced in the scheme after admitting to paying $15,000 to rig her daughter's SAT score. She was sentenced to 14 days in prison, 250 hours of community service and a $30,000 fine.
Talwani challenged the idea that parents would pursue the admissions or test scheme out of a desire to help their children.
"The crime that's at issue in all of these cases is not basic care-taking for your child. It's not getting your child food or clothing. It's not even getting your child a college education," she said. "It's getting your child into a college that might be called exclusive. Are they doing that for their children or are they doing it for their own status?"
Prosecutors said Sloane deserved prison time because he enlisted his son in the scheme, stole an admissions spot from another deserving USC candidate, and because he has failed to take full responsibility by blaming admissions Singer for luring him into the scheme.
"He is using his wealth to attempt to buy his way out of jail," Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen said Tuesday. "Prison is necessary here as a great leveler between rich and poor, and that's why the defendant here is doing everything he can to avoid it."
Rosen added that Sloane's deceit is worse than Huffman's. He emphasized that Sloane staged action photos of his son pretending to play water polo in the family's swimming pool.
"Huffman kept her child out of the crime, preferring to not let her know what was going on," he said. "The defendant, by contrast, literally threw his son into the family pool."
The bribe amount is typical among parents accused of paying for admissions spots in the scheme. Several others paid similar sums to get their children into USC and other elite schools, authorities said, while some paid as much as $400,000 per student.
Sloane's son, Matteo, was accepted to USC as a water polo recruit in March 2018. It's unclear if he still attends the school. As of this August, USC said it had not made a decision regarding students whose families were accused in the admission scheme.
Fifteen parents have pleaded guilty, while 19 are fighting the charges, including "Full House" actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying $500,000 to get their two daughters into USC as fake athletes.
Several other parents are scheduled to be sentenced in coming weeks, including Stephen Semprevivo, who faces sentencing Thursday on charges that he paid $400,000 to get his son into Georgetown University.