Rick Singer: Mastermind behind Varsity Blues college admissions scandal gets 3.5 years in prison

Rick Singer: Mastermind behind Varsity Blues college admissions scandal gets 3.5 years in prison
William 'Rick' Singer at Boston Federal Court after being charged with racketeering conspiracy and money laundering (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: William "Rick" Singer, 62, the mastermind behind a decade-long college admissions scam, was sentenced Wednesday, January 4, in federal court in Boston to 3.5 years in prison. This marks the end of Operation Varsity Blues, after hundreds of wealthy parents and celebrities ended up behind bars for the rigged higher education admission system. Singer was sentenced by federal Judge Rya Zobel in Boston, Massachusetts, to three years of supervised release and forfeiture of more than $10 million.

According to the FBI, Singer, 62, pleaded guilty in March 2019 to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and other charges surrounding the scandal. He cooperated with the government’s investigation and wore a wire for the FBI. As part of the operation, bribes were paid, rigged entrance exams, and bogus claims were made by unqualified applicants to get into schools as elite recruits. In his testimony, Singer said that he was ashamed of what he had done and he had previously believed that "lying to win was acceptable because of victory," as per NBC News.

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“I lost my ethical values and have so much regret,” he told the judge.”To be frank, I am ashamed of myself.” “I’ve learned how to use my strong self-discipline to become an honest and legitimate person,” Singer said, adding that he “can and will” be a law-abiding citizen.

Singer secretly cooperated with federal authorities to turn over affluent parents and celebrities whose children he helped get into top schools with false test scores and fake athletic credentials.  Over 50 parents, coaches, and administrators were arrested in March 2019 as a result of the recording of hundreds of phone calls and meetings he conducted with police and the FBI. Actress Lori Loughlin, her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, and 'Desperate Housewives' star Felicity Huffman were all detained. 

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While defense counsel requested three years of probation or a maximum of six months in jail, prosecutors had asked for a six-year sentence. The behavior in the Operation Varsity Blues case was described by US Attorney Rachael S Rollins as "something out of a Hollywood movie." Rollins discussed her disbelief at the magnitude of the incident during a press conference after the verdict was announced. "I, like millions of hard-working lower- or middle-class families, have gone through this process," Rollins said. "I was never foolish enough to believe it was a meritocracy, but I had absolutely no idea how corrupt and infected the admissions process was until this case exposed everything. Any parent or guardian who has ever experienced the college admissions process should be angry."

According to FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Joseph Bonavolonta, Singer "sold out hard-working youngsters a little bit more" with each bribe given on behalf of wealthy families. "Everyone arrested, charged and convicted to date are integral to the scheme's success, but without Rick Singer, they never would have succeeded," Bonavolonta said.

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Mr. Singer was a former basketball coach turned college counselor who knew the complexities of athletic recruitment. By bribing college sports authorities, he gained entry for students through a "side door" rather than the main entrance of regular admissions. He selected low-profile sports with little regulation. The sentencing for  Singer is the harshest term imposed in the massive scandal that humiliated some of the most esteemed colleges in the country and brought attention to the opaque admissions process, which was already widely believed to be biased in favor of the wealthy.

According to the prosecution, Singer received more than $25 million from his clients, spent more than $15 million of their money on himself, and paid more than $7 million in bribes. Singer claimed in a letter included with his defense's sentencing document on Thursday that Operation Varsity Blues was the reason he now lives in a trailer park and has failed to find employment despite more than 1,000 attempts.

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“For most of my life, if not all of it, I have thrived on winning at all costs,” he wrote. “My moral compass was broken and, increasingly over time, choosing right over wrong became less important than doing whatever had to be done to be recognized as the ‘best.’” He claimed that by getting caught, he has been given "the opportunity for insight, atonement, and redemption." According to court filings, Singer has already paid $1,213,000 of the $3.4 million forfeited money. He is expected to report to prison on February 27.

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