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Mastermind Behind College Bribery Scheme Then Wore A Wire To Expose His Own High-Profile Clients

William Singer’s attorney said the man at the center of allegations that have ensnared scores of wealthy and famous parents "has been working with kids getting into college, and it got out of control.”

By Jill Sederstrom

The man at the center of a $25 million college admission cheating scandal spent decades helping children gain entrance to college, but could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

William Singer, sometimes referred to as Rick Singer, admitted in court Tuesday to using illegal practices to help college-age students and their parents use a “side door” to gain acceptance into some of the nation’s most prestigious universities.

Singer, 58, admitted to devising a series of scams to falsify college entrance exams, bribe test administrators, falsely certify students as athletes and even lie about student’s ethnicities and backgrounds to improve their chances of getting admitted to select colleges. But while Singer served as the admitted mastermind of the scheme—which has resulted in charges against 50 people including well-known celebrities Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin—he also wore a wire and served as a “cooperating witness” to expose the very parents who were allegedly paying for his services.

“Everything that Mr. Rosen stated is exactly true — all of those things, plus many more things I did,” Singer said in court Tuesday, referring to a summary of his actions provided by federal prosecutor Eric S. Rosen, according to The New York Times.

Singer pleaded guilty to one count each of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. Singer, who is scheduled to be sentenced June 19, could face up to 65 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $1.25 million fine, CNN reports.

But just who is the man behind the massive scandal?

William Rick Singer

Singer’s attorney, Donald Heller, said the 58-year-old began his career in the college prep business in 1994.

Before that, he had been a boy’s basketball coach at Encina High School but reportedly had been fired as the result of a “personal matter.” The Sacramento Bee reported at the time that he’d been let go from the post because of his abusive nature with referees. He later served as an assistant basketball coach for the Sacramento State men’s basketball team.

By 1994, he had founded the Future Stars, a college counseling service aimed at helping high school students and first-year college students.

“I get information from schools even in places the student said they wouldn’t consider,” he told The Bee in 1994. “Because of my background in coaching, I’ve visited a tremendous number of schools all around the country.”

Singer would later delve further into the college prep-world, establishing the for-profit college counseling and preparation business, The Edge College & Career Network, LLC, also known as “The Key.”

According to the organization’s website, The Key is located in 81 cities across the United States and five foreign countries and is designed to provide one-on-one assistance to help students “discover their full potential.”  

It claims Singer and his team coached and mentored over 90,000 people over a 20-year period.

At some point, Singer left the organization to serve as a top executive in the call center industry, before returning to The Key.

He also created the nonprofit corporation, Key Worldwide Foundation, in 2012. The corporation was a purported charity through which parents' illicit payments were funneled.

Singer also wrote books centered on his expertise in the college-prep circuit, including the 2014 book “Getting In: Gaining Admission to the College of your Choice.”

Its alleged that both The Key and Key Worldwide Foundation were wrapped up in the bribery scam that ran from about 2011 to Sept. 2018, the indictment said.

Singer is accused of accepting monetary bribes typically ranging between $15,000 and $75,000 to falsify SAT and ACT scores, either by having a third-party proctor correct students' exam answers or, in some cases, even having a third party secretly take the exams in place of the student. The students were often unaware their scores had been altered.

As part of the scheme, Singer also bribed college coaches to claim students had been recruited for a school’s sports team, regardless of their athletic ability, even doctoring photos to make it appear that students had participated in certain activities.

Singer referred to the schemes as a “side door” to getting into college that offered his wealthy clients a guarantee rather than leaving their child’s admission up to chance.

“I’m sure there will be more things coming out,” Heller said, according to The New York Times. “I can tell you he’s a very stoic person, but this has been very emotional for him, dealing with this, because his whole life has been working with kids getting into college, and it got out of control.”

He claimed his client was very remorseful and had been cooperating with investigators after the schemes were discovered, NBC News reports.

While the disgraced executive’s fate hangs in the balance, Singer is reportedly out on bond. Singer’s $500,000 bond was reportedly secured by property in California owned by his brother.

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