Scandal mastermind gives up millions

Admissions scheme organizer William “Rick” Singer forfeited $3.4 million along with funds of undisclosed value from his fraudulent organizations, the nonprofit Key Worldwide Foundation and for-profit The Key, in Boston federal court Thursday. The organizations acted as liaisons between the parents and the school and university administrators involved in the scheme, receiving payments from parents and paying out bribes. In several instances, parents wrote checks to the Key Worldwide Foundation and claimed the purported donations as tax deductions.

Singer pleaded guilty in March to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice for engineering the Operation Varsity Blues scheme, helping parents rig their children’s standardized test scores and bribe college officials to admit their students as false athletic recruits to universities such as USC. 

Singer facilitated more than 700 admissions to elite colleges for underqualified students, according to phone calls recorded and released by the FBI as part of the Varsity Blues investigation. USC launched a review of 33 students’ admissions following the release of the federal admissions scandal investigation in March and said in a statement that it has resolved most of the cases.

As part of the plea, Singer agreed to forfeit all property associated with the scheme, including bank accounts he used to cash checks parents sent him as payment for his “side door” strategy, in which he formed relationships with university officials and bribed them to lie about the applicants’ qualifications and recommend them for admission. At USC, senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel, accepted $1.3 million in bribes for facilitating more than two dozen acceptances, and water polo coach Jovan Vavic received $250,000 in exchange for designating two unqualified applicants as water polo recruits.

In addition to the money, Singer surrendered control of checking accounts and assets associated with the college admissions scheme — including investments in private equities, a restaurant chain and a European soccer club — to the federal government. 

Singer founded the Edge College and Career Network, known as The Key, in December 2007 and conducted his first documented incidence of cheating two months later, when he bribed a Georgetown University tennis coach to designate the daughter of investment firm CEO Douglas Hodge as a tennis recruit, fabricating several national athletic awards on her recruitment profile. He continued to work with Hodge on his children’s admissions, arranging four of Hodge’s children’s college acceptances — including two to USC — until Singer agreed to cooperate with the government investigation in 2018.

A date has not yet been set for Singer’s sentencing. His next court appearance, a telephone conference, is scheduled for Feb. 20.