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Ex-leader of PIMCO seeks new sentence in college admissions case, saying key evidence was hidden for a year

Two of investment manager Douglas Hodge’s children were admitted to the University of Southern California as sports recruits, though they never played on college teams.
Two of investment manager Douglas Hodge’s children were admitted to the University of Southern California as sports recruits, though they never played on college teams.Andrew Cullen/The New York Times

Douglas Hodge, the former head of the global investment management firm PIMCO who was sentenced last month to nine months in prison for his role in the college admissions cheating scandal, plans to seek a new sentencing based on documents the government recently disclosed.

Attorneys for Hodge, 62, of tony Laguna Beach, Calif., signaled that the wealthy asset manager’s intention in a motion filed Thursday in US District Court in Boston. PIMCO manages $1.91 trillion dollars, according to the company’s website.

Hodge pleaded guilty in that courthouse in October to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services and wire fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering.

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While stressing Thursday that Hodge takes responsibility for his actions and will surrender to authorities on March 20 to begin serving his sentence, his legal team also noted that late last month, “the government provided material to Mr. Hodge and other defendants that contained exculpatory information” that US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office knew about for over a year.

That information, according to legal filings, includes notes taken by the scheme’s admitted ringleader, William “Rick” Singer, in which Singer indicated that in correspondence with parents, he characterized payments as legitimate donations to college athletic programs, rather than bribes. Prosecutors contend parents knew they were paying bribes.

In Thursday’s motion, lawyers for Hodge, who was also fined $750,000 and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service, wrote that based on the newly provided Singer material, Hodge “anticipates filing a Motion to Vacate Judgment and for a New Sentencing Hearing, or, in the alternative, an Emergency Appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals to Vacate Judgment.”

Hodge wants a 30-day extension of his current March 11 deadline to file a notice of appeal.

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The feds had sought a two-year sentence for Hodge and alleged he conspired with Singer and others to pay bribes totaling $525,000 to get his younger daughter into the University of Southern California as a purported soccer recruit and his son admitted as a phony football prospect.

Hodge is one of more than 50 defendants charged in the breathtaking scheme, in which wealthy parents allegedly cut fat checks to Singer to get their children falsely classified as athletic recruits at fancy schools, effectively paving their way to admission, or to facilitate cheating on their children’s SAT and ACT exams when the scores needed a little buffing.

Prosecutors say Singer, who has admitted to his starring role in the ruse and awaits sentencing, directed parents to mask the bribes as payments to his sham charity for underprivileged youth. He also directed funds to corrupt coaches and college officials in on the con, as well as to their athletic programs, prosecutors allege.

Hodge’s lawyers wrote in Thursday’s filing that “the government’s intentional withholding of key exculpatory information prevented Mr. Hodge from supporting his crucial argument that he believed he was making donations to specific university programs.”

Prosecutors have said they only recently turned over the Singer notes, which he initially sent to his attorney, after the attorney waived privilege.

In a separate development, US Magistrate Judge Page Kelley on Wednesday ordered USC to provide materials to another charged parent, Robert Zangrillo, without redaction so he can adequately prepare his defense.

Zangrillo is charged with multiple felonies for allegedly paying bribes totaling $250,000 to get his daughter into USC as a bogus crew recruit, among other actions. Zangrillo has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

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Kelley wrote in Wednesday’s order that USC previously provided the documents to Zangrillo in redacted form, but she has determined that “the redactions are impracticable.”

That’s the case, Kelley wrote, in part because Zangrillo’s daughter wasn’t presented to the Office of Admission at USC as a potential athlete, like other children of charged parents, but was instead “tagged” by the Athletics Department as a so-called “VIP.”

Kelley cited an e-mail from Donna Heinel, a former USC athletics official charged in connection with the case, to Singer in which Heinel wrote that Zangrillo’s daughter " 'was not presented as an athlete[,] we just advocated for her with Tim [Brunold, the dean of admission at USC] and Kirk [Brennan, director of undergraduate admission] as a transfer. She went over on our VIP list for transfers.’ ”

After Zangrillo’s daughter was accepted, Kelley wrote, he paid Singer $200,000 and, at Singer’s direction, gave a $50,000 donation to USC women’s athletics. Prosecutors say the latter payment amounted to a bribe to Heinel, since one object of the alleged plot was to fund “designated university accounts over which the bribe recipients exercised discretion or that otherwise benefited them professionally,” according to Kelley’s ruling.

However, Kelley wrote, Heinel’s e-mail to Singer opens the door for Zangrillo to argue that regardless of any fibs on his daughter’s application, she was admitted “under a legitimate, accepted avenue of admission at USC: as a VIP.”

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Kelley cited a previously filed affidavit from Brunold, the USC admissions dean, in which he claimed his department doesn’t track donations from an applicant’s family. Brunold also asserted that family donor information isn’t included in an applicant’s file, and that if he “had known that a prospective student’s family had donated $50,000 or $100,000 to USC, it would not have affected” the final admissions decision, records show.

Kelley called Brunold’s bluff in Wednesday’s order.

She wrote that Brunold’s “statement is misleading, because while each carefully worded sentence may be true ... the unmistakable import of the statement is that donations are not important to the decision whether to admit students. That message is belied by many facts that have come to light in the course of this litigation.”

In a statement Friday, USC pushed back on the suggestion that the school misled the court.

“We have always cooperated with the government and the courts and make every effort to provide information, including to the defendants," the university said. "Our redactions were intended to protect privacy, such as test scores, not to withhold any pertinent information. We provided unredacted documents to the government and the court.”

The statement said USC is "reviewing the decision in detail and deciding next steps, including whether to appeal.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.