Coaches, celebrities indicted in college admissions bribery case
An investor from Fort Worth and a tennis coach at the University of Texas were named in a massive college admissions scandal that resulted in dozens of parents and coaches being indicted in federal court.
More than forty people, including coach Michael Center and Fort Worth’s Bill McGlashan, were charged Tuesday with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were also charged in the scheme, according to the charging documents.
The charges are part of a nationwide federal probe into how some wealthy families allegedly participated in an exam-cheating and athletic-recruitment scheme to get their children into elite universities. It stretched across the country from Boston to Texas to California.
Dozens were arrested Tuesday by federal agents and charged in federal court in Boston. Athletic coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown were also implicated in the case, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Massachusetts. Parents and exam administrators were also implicated.
At the center of the case is William “Rick” Singer, 58, who owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network LLC, a for-profit college counseling and preparation business. The California resident also serves as the CEO of a charity used to conceal bribes. The case revolved around several areas — a college entrance exam cheating scheme, a college athletic recruitment scheme and a tax fraud conspiracy.
Fort Worth investor implicated
Bill McGlashan, a founder and managing partner at TPG Growth, is accused of faking his son’s ACT scores and creating a fake athletic profile purporting that his son was a football kicker to up his chances at getting into the University of Southern California.
TPG Growth, whose headquarters are now in San Francisco, was founded in Fort Worth.
According to to the technology news website Recode, McGlashan is known as one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent private equity investors and a leader in how to invest ethically.
Since moving to California, McGlashan has apparently been a leading voice for social responsibility, Recode reported.
McGlashan is also accused of conspiring to bribe a senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California to get his son’s admission to USC as a recruited athlete. He’s charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
McGlashan agreed to donate $50,000 to the Key Worldwide Foundation through a third-party person. That person, who isn’t named in the charging documents, would make sure that McGlashan’s son took the ACT test in a “controlled” center and that someone would correct his son’s answers after the test was completed, the documents say.
In November 2017, McGlashan sent the third-party person an email requesting that his son’s test be taken in the West Hollywood Test Center instead of his own high school in Marin County, California. Three days before his son’s Dec. 6, 2017, test, McGlashan made a $50,000 donation.
The proctor for the exam flew to California from Tampa, Florida, specifically to proctor for McGlashan’s son and to correct answers that were wrong, according to the document.
Records obtained by federal investigators found that McGlashan’s son was shown to have taken the exam in Los Angeles on Dec. 10, 2017, but his son’s cellphone records show that he was hundreds of miles away in Marin County at that time.
Then, on July 30, 2018, call records show that McGlashan discussed repeating the ACT cheating scheme for his two younger children, according to the documents.
The witness who McGlashan spoke with regarding the scheme later explained to McGlashan that they would need to create a “fake athletic profile” for McGlashan’s older son, which the witness said he had done “a million times” for other families, the document says.
“I’ll pick a sport and we’ll do a picture of him, or he can, we’ll put his face on the picture whatever,” the witness told McGlashan. “Just so that he plays whatever. I’ve already done that a million times.”
“Well, we have images of him in lacrosse,” McGlashan responded. “I don’t know if that matters.”
The witness told McGlashan that USC doesn’t have a lacrosse team, so they’d have to pick a different sport. McGlashan said he was worried about his son getting letters from the athletics program. The witness told him that he wouldn’t and that he would just have to attend the regular orientation.
A fake athletic profile using Photoshop was then created for McGlashan’s son, making it look like he was a football player, according to the document. The witness told McGlashan that his son’s odds of admission to USC would jump to 90 percent if they could get him accepted as a kicker or punter.
A conversation between McGlashan and another parent at his son’s high school showed that McGlashan’s son didn’t know about the scheme, the document says.
UT Austin coach Michael Center
In Texas, UT tennis coach Michael Center is accused of accepting a $100,000 bribe in exchange for a student being designated as a recruit to the UT tennis team. The applicant, a resident of Los Altos Hills, California, did not play competitive tennis, the documents say.
UT officials sent a statement to KXAN-TV that said:
“Federal authorities notified us this morning that we were victims of an organized criminal effort involving admissions. We have just become aware of charges against our Men’s Tennis Coach Michael Center and he will be placed on administrative leave until further notice while we gather information. We are cooperating fully with the investigation. Integrity in admissions is vital to the academic and ethical standards of our university.”
Center has been at UT for 19 years and has an annual salary of $232,338, according to the Austin American-Statesman. He had previously coached at TCU for two years.
He’s charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
The applicant’s father donated more than $400,000 to the Key Worldwide Foundation. In exchange, Center told the student’s father, the student would receive a letter of intent from UT for a partial scholarship that covered books.
The student was added to the tennis team’s roster as a recruited athlete, according to court documents.
The bribe had been arranged by Martin Fox, of Houston, the document says.
After the applicant was accepted, the father, in April 2015, made a second donation of stock to the Key Worldwide Foundation for $102,925. A month later, he made a third donation for $73,445, the documents say.
On June 8, 2015, Fox was mailed a check for $100,000 for his role in brokering the bribe of Center.
In September 2015, around the time the student started classes, he voluntarily withdrew from the tennis team and renounced his books scholarship, meaning he decided to no longer receive money from the school and he would no longer be classified as a student athlete, the documents say.
After he withdrew his name, the confidential witness called Center to say that he had another recruit for next year. Center brought up the first applicant.
“I got him into the school, you know, and then he — then he withdrew from the team. I mean, does this kid wanna be on the team or does this kid just wanna get into school?” Center asked.
“I think probably he could go either way,” the witness said. “He doesn’t need to be on the team to be frank.”
Center said some of the money he received from the first bribe went to the school’s facility.
As he arrived to the federal court in Austin on Tuesday, Center told KVUE-TV, “Maybe you guys can go cover the team, they’re a lot more fun to cover than I am.”
The case ignited a national conversation about fairness in the college application process.
“Anytime that anyone circumvents the systems or is moved to the front of the line, when everyone else has to stay in line, that creates unbalanced and unfair access,” said Todd Vesely, executive director of athletics for Fort Worth schools.
Vesely said the college admissions process is very complex, competitive and difficult to navigate for student athletes and their families.
“It seems like it becomes easier to be taken advantage of,” Vesely said, adding that school districts rely on institutions policing themselves when they are reaching out to future college students.
Additionally, getting into the University of Texas at Austin has become increasingly difficult for applicants, said Michael Steinert, assistant superintendent of student support services for Fort Worth schools.
Texas public universities have a standard in which the top 10 percent of a graduating class has a guaranteed admission, but at UT Austin that standard is higher than other public universities. It is top 7 percent at UT Austin and expected to be top 6 percent next year, Steinert said.
“What it means is if you are in the top 7 percent, we guarantee you admission,” Steinert said, adding that students outside that range still apply.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t get in it just means you are not guaranteed admission,” Steinert said, explaining that not everyone admitted to UT Austin ends up going.
The competition for slots under UT Austin’s top 7 percent rule is intense and families have transferred students from a large-competitive high schools to smaller ones that increase the chances of being in the top 7 percent, he said.
“I think the message to parents and kids is that the consequences of trying to cheat — whether on school exams, state exams or college entrance exams — those consequences are terribly high,” Steinert said. “You are looking at sacrificing your entire future by trying to take a short cut.”
Singer, who served as a CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation, conspired with dozens of parents, coaches, a university athletics administrator and others from about 2011 to February 2019, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.
The scheme involved fudging student’s ACT tests, and included parents paying for someone else to take the exam for their children, or others sending their children to a testing center in Houston to take the exam over a two-day period instead of one.
One mother in California asked the Houston center for a copy of the exam so her son could take it at home, so that he would believe he had taken the test, while someone else actually took the test on his behalf in Houston.
In total, 33 parents and 13 coaches are implicated, along with two SAT and ACT test administrators.
The conspiracy involved bribing exam administrators to allow a test taker, typically Mark Riddell — a counselor at a private school in Bradenton, Florida — to take college entrance exams in place of students or to correct their answers after they took the exams, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
He also organized bribing coaches at several universities to facilitate the admission of students under the guise of being recruited as athletes.
Singer paid approximately $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators. Then, beginning in 2013, Singer allegedly agreed with certain clients to disguise the bribe payments as charitable contributions to the Key Worldwide Foundation, enabling parents to deduct the bribes from their federal income taxes, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Singer is charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of justice.