Parents stopped at nothing to get their kids in ‘side door’
One father allegedly bought water polo gear on Amazon and hired a graphic designer to help fabricate a photo of his son as a water polo player to help him get into the University of Southern California.
A mother claimed her daughter won many United States Tennis Association tournaments to help get her admitted to Georgetown University, federal officials say. But the girl had never played in a single USTA match.
Still another father allegedly agreed to have his son’s face Photoshopped onto the body of a football player after being told his chances of being admitted would improve if he could pass as a kicker.
These schemes and others like them were described in elaborate detail Tuesday by federal law enforcement officials in Boston in what they called the largest collegiate admissions scandal ever prosecuted.
The 200-page affidavit unsealed Tuesday lays out the lengths to which uber-wealthy parents allegedly went to help their children get admitted to schools including Yale, Georgetown, and Stanford universities.
The document explains how prosecutors believe one man — William “Rick” Singer — orchestrated an intricate system that he called “side door” admissions into top universities across the country.
In simple terms, Singer operated two schemes that parents allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to access. In one, Singer helped facilitate cheating on SAT and ACT college entrance exams. In the other, he bribed college coaches to ensure that students were flagged as athletic recruits, nearly guaranteeing them admission.
“What we do is we help the wealthiest families in the US get their kids into school,” Singer told one parent in a telephone call in June 2018 that was secretly recorded by the FBI. “My families want a guarantee.”
In some cases students are alleged to have known what their parents were up to and played along. Others had no idea.
Singer boasted to parents that he helped more than 800 students get accepted through that side door — a rigged system in which parents paid bribes to his company disguised as charitable donations. Taken together, the federal allegations paint a vivid picture of the alleged scheming.
One parent, real estate developer Bruce Isackson of Hillsborough, Calif., allegedly paid for Singer’s help getting his daughter into the USC as a purported soccer recruit with 2,150 shares of Facebook stock, valued at around $250,000.
Another, Gordon Caplan, is accused of paying Singer $75,000 last year to have someone change the incorrect answers on his daughter’s ACT test to give her a dramatically higher score.
“She won’t even know it happened,” Singer told Caplan, an attorney and cochairman of the New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher.
“It will happen as though, she will think that she’s really super smart, and she got lucky on a test, and you got a score now. There’s lots of ways to do this. I can do anything and everything, if you guys are amenable to doing it,” Singer said, according to court documents.
Caplan, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., arranged for his daughter to take the ACT test in California.
“To be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here,” Caplan said in a call with Singer last July. “I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”
Singer assured him, “It’s never happened before in 20 some-odd years.”
Another defendant, Hyannis Port resident John B. Wilson, allegedly paid $1.5 million in efforts to have his three children admitted to top schools.
Wilson, the founder and CEO of a real estate development firm, first helped his son get into USC using Singer’s services. He worried, though, that his son’s teammates would figure out his son was not actually a water polo player.
“Would the other kids know [my son] was a bench-warmer side-door person?” Wilson wrote in an e-mail to Singer in 2013.
Singer responded that his son would not actually be expected to play water polo. Singer made a $100,000 payment to the USC men’s water polo team. According to court documents, his son was admitted, enrolled, then withdrew from the team after one semester.
Apparently satisfied with Singer’s success, Wilson inquired again in 2018 about potential side door opportunities for his daughters, who wished to attend Stanford and Harvard.
But by then, Singer was cooperating with law enforcement, and captured Wilson on tape agreeing to pay $1 millionto help his two daughters.
Manuel Henriquez, a California businessman and former Northeastern University board member, is accused, along with his wife, Elizabeth, of paying Singer $400,000 to bribe the head tennis coach at Georgetown so the coach would falsely claim to the admissions office that their daughter was being recruited to play.
Henriquez, who is CEO of Hercules Technology Growth Capital, allegedly paid Singer $25,000 to have someonesit beside his daughter while she took the SAT exam in 2015 and provide the correct answers. Afterward, they “gloated” about getting away with cheating, according to an FBI affidavit filed in court.
In 2015, the Henriquezes allegedly agreed to pay Singer $400,000 to bribe Gordon Ernst, the tennis coach at Georgetown, to falsely claim that their daughter was being recruited for the team — paving the way for her admission.
The Henriquezes’ daughter’s application to Georgetown falsely claimed she played “club tennis” while in high school and listed her as having a “Top 50 ranking” in the United States Tennis Association, but records indicate she didn’t play at any of the association’s tournaments during that time, according to the affidavit. The Henriquezes are accused of funneling a $400,000 payment to Singer through his charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, after their daughter was admitted to Georgetown. The charity paid Ernst $950,000 over two years.
The following year, the Henriquezes agreed to pay Singer $100,000 to help another daughter to cheat on ACT and SAT exams, but he credited them $75,000 in exchange for Manuel Henriquez’s help getting another one of Singer’s clients admitted to Northeastern, according to the affidavit. After that student was admitted to Northeastern, his parents allegedly paid Singer $250,000.
Another parent, Devin Sloane, is alleged to have purchased a water polo ball and cap and had his son pose in the gear for photos, engaging the help of a graphic designer to make it look realistic.
“Does this work??” Sloane wrote to Singer.
“Yes but a little high out of the water — no one gets that high,” Singer wrote back.
William McGlashan Jr., one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent private equity investors, allegedly paid Singer $50,000 to have someone correct his son’s answers on the ACT exam in 2017, then discussed paying another $250,000 to create a fake athletic profile to help his son get recruited to USC as an athlete, according to the affidavit.
“So he doesn’t have to know how he got in; is that the case?” McGlashan asked Singer in a call recorded by the FBI.
Singer agreed that McGlashan’s son wouldn’t know, and McGlashan agreed to provide photographs of his son that Singer could Photoshop onto the body of a football player and pretend he was a kicker or punter.
McGlashan said his son didn’t play football, but he’d send athletic photos if it would help him get into USC.
“Let me look through what I have,” McGlashan said. “Pretty funny. The way the world works these days is unbelievable.”