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Second parent to plead guilty in bribery scandal

Gordon Caplan, 52, who was placed on leave from his job as cochairman of Willkie Farr & Gallagher after he was charged last month in the college admissions bribery scandal, said, “I take full and sole responsibility for my conduct.”
Gordon Caplan, 52, who was placed on leave from his job as cochairman of Willkie Farr & Gallagher after he was charged last month in the college admissions bribery scandal, said, “I take full and sole responsibility for my conduct.”(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

A New York attorney announced Friday that he will plead guilty to paying a college consultant $75,000 to boost his daughter’s standardized test score, saying his daughter was unaware of the scheme and “has been devastated to learn what I did.”

Gordon Caplan, 52, who was placed on leave from his job as cochairman of Willkie Farr & Gallagher after he was charged last month in the college admissions bribery scandal, said, “I take full and sole responsibility for my conduct.”

“I want to make clear that my daughter, whom I love more than anything in the world, is a high school junior and has not yet applied to college, much less been accepted by any school,” Caplan said in a statement. “She had no knowledge whatsoever about my actions, has been devastated to learn what I did, and has been hurt the most by it.”

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The Greenwich, Conn., father was among 50 people, including celebrities, financiers, and college coaches, charged in an audacious bribery scheme to help their children be admitted into some of the nation’s top colleges.

Caplan was among 32 wealthy parents charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. The amount of payments the parents are accused of making varies widely, from $15,000 to $1.2 million.

Caplan is the second parent who has indicated he will plead guilty in the case, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”

He is accused of paying the admitted ringleader of the cheating scheme, William “Rick” 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 during a call that was secretly recorded by the FBI last June, according to an FBI affidavit. “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.”

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In another conversation in July about the cheating scheme, Caplan said, “To be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”

At Singer’s direction, Caplan arranged for his daughter to meet with a psychologist who provided medical documentation that allowed her extra time to take the ACT, according to the affidavit. On Dec. 8, Caplan’s daughter took the test in California, where Singer’s accomplice served as a proctor for the test and corrected her answers afterward.

In his statement Friday, Caplan expressed remorse for the pain he caused his daughter.

“My immediate goal is to focus on making amends for my actions to try to win back the trust and respect of my daughter, my family, and my community,” Caplan said. “The remorse and shame that I feel is more than I can convey.”

Caplan said he will “dedicate myself to trying to right this wrong.”

Shortly after Caplan’s announcement, he was out of a job. Willkie released a statement saying he was no longer a partner at the firm, noting, “Nothing is more important to us than our integrity and we do not tolerate behavior that runs contrary to our core values.”

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Prosecutors have been negotiating with some of the parents about pleading guilty, but they plan to seek some jail time for all of them, ranging from around six months to several years, according to several people familiar with the negotiations. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the amount of prison time the parents face depends on how much they paid in bribes.

Parents who don’t plead guilty are expected to be indicted as early as next week on mail fraud and possible money laundering charges. Three parents have already been indicted in the college admissions bribery case.

On Wednesday, lawyers for another parent, Peter Sartorio, disclosed in court filings that he intends to plead guilty. Two other parents, Jane Buckingham and Devin Sloane, notified the court they are in negotiations and hope to resolve their cases.

On Wednesday, Caplan appeared in US District Court in Boston’s Seaport for an initial appearance along with nine other parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

Singer began cooperating with federal authorities in September. He admitted he rigged a system in which parents paid bribes to his company disguised as charitable donations.


Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.