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N.Y. lawyer, Calif. wine mogul plead guilty in college admissions case

Agustin Huneeus (center) arrived at federal court Tuesday in Boston.
Agustin Huneeus (center) arrived at federal court Tuesday in Boston.(Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)

A prominent lawyer and a California vintner both pleaded guilty Tuesday in connection with the nationwide college admissions cheating scandal that exploded into the headlines in March.

Attorney Gordon Caplan, 52, of Greenwich, Conn., and wine mogul Agustin Francisco Huneeus Jr., 53, of San Francisco, entered their pleas in US District Court in Boston, records show. They’re both charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

The office of US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling confirmed the guilty pleas via Twitter.

Caplan and Huneeus are among the 50 people entangled in the scam, in which wealthy parents cut fat checks to admitted ringleader William “Rick” Singer to have their children falsely presented as athletic recruits at top schools or to facilitate cheating on the SAT and ACT exams.

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Caplan, former cochairman of the Manhattan law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, paid $75,000 to a sham charity run by Singer to arrange for a corrupt proctor to correct Caplan’s daughter’s ACT answers at a West Hollywood test center in December 2018, according to court records.

Caplan said last month in a statement that he takes “full and sole responsibility for my conduct” and that his 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.”

He said his daughter “had no knowledge whatsoever about my actions, has been devastated to learn what I did, and has been hurt the most by it.”

Huneeus, meanwhile, paid $100,000 and agreed to pony up an additional $200,000 to pad his daughter’s SAT score and have her falsely classified as a water polo recruit at the University of Southern California. The college extended a conditional acceptance letter to her in November 2018, records show.

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Authorities are seeking prison time for both defendants, who each face up to 20 years behind bars.

In Caplan’s case, the government is seeking “incarceration at the low end of the Guidelines sentencing range,” a $40,000 fine, and restitution to be determined by the court, according to his plea agreement.

Prosecutors in Huneeus’s case want the wine magnate to spend 15 months in prison, pay a $95,000 fine, and cough up a separate restitution payment in an amount to be determined by the court, his plea deal says.

The website winebusiness.com reported last month that Huneeus had stepped aside from running the family company his father started.

According to the company website, the elder Huneeus and his wife “founded the Quintessa estate in the renowned Rutherford District of Napa Valley in 1990.


Material from Bloomberg was used in this report. Shelley Murphy and Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.