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Former Stanford University sailing coach faces sentencing in college admissions scandal

John Vandemoer, former sailing coach for Stanford University, never directly pocketed any cash and his efforts to help three students bypass the admissions process ultimately failed.
John Vandemoer, former sailing coach for Stanford University, never directly pocketed any cash and his efforts to help three students bypass the admissions process ultimately failed.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2019)

The first person to be sentenced in the “Varsity Blues” college entrance scandal will be the former sailing coach for Stanford University who never directly pocketed any cash and whose efforts to help three students bypass the admissions process ultimately failed.

John Vandemoer, who grew up on Cape Cod and started sailing off the shores of Hyannis as a child, pleaded guilty to racketeering and honest fraud services for steering $610,000 into Stanford sailing bank accounts in return for falsely qualifying three students as sailors for admissions.

According to US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office and Vandemoer’s defense, the Hobart College graduate who once worked as the sailing coach at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis did not put the cash in personal bank accounts.

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But, prosecutors assert, he actively conspired with “Varsity Blues” scam organizer William “Rick” Singer to subvert Stanford’s admissions system and would personally benefit with increased success in competitions with better equipment purchased with the bribes. He worked with Singer on behalf of three students, but the students chose to attend other schools, prosecutors said.

Singer has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators. When he pleaded guilty earlier this year, Vandemoer also agreed to assist Lelling’s office.

Prosecutors said they will ask US District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel to order Vandemoer, the father of two young children and the wife of US Olympic sailor Molly O’Bryan Vandemoer, to 13 months behind bars. Sentencing is set for Wednesday afternoon.

“The defendant did not take the money for his own personal use, but benefited from the money indirectly: he funneled the criminal proceeds to accounts he controlled for the university sailing program,’’ prosecutors wrote. “He secretly sold recruitment slots in exchange for payments that were used to benefit the sailing program he ran, and so enhanced his own career prospects.”

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Vandemoer, under federal sentencing guidelines, could face up to four years in prison, records show.

But the defense argues that Vandemoer should be placed on probation and not taken away from his children. Moreover, the former coach has no prior criminal history, pleaded guilty, and is considered by some former Stanford sailors, their parents, and a retired Navy admiral, among others, as an otherwise ethical man who made one massive mistake.

“Mr. Vandemoer is before this Court because in one instance he failed to live up to the high standards he set for himself and instilled in countless young people,” his attorneys wrote. “This is a mistake he regrets dearly and one that he is determined not to let define him or his life.”

In a victim impact statement, Stanford University wrote that it was not taking a stand on whether Vandemoer should spend time behind bars. But the famous California university said he violated its trust and tarnished the school’s reputation.

“Their actions undermined public confidence in the college admissions system and reflected negatively on Stanford and its hard-working, honest student-athletes,’’ the university wrote about Vandemoer and Singer’s program. “Mr. Vandemoer’s conduct also was wholly antithetical to Stanford’s core values.”

The school said it rescinded the application of one student but stressed no one associated with the scam got into Stanford. The university is now deciding what to do with the $610,000 Singer provided to the sailing program.

“Stanford does not wish to benefit in any way from Mr. Vandemoer’s conduct,’’ the university wrote. “Stanford views those funds as tainted.”

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The “Varsity Blues” investigation has led to criminal charges against 50 people, including Vandemoer, several coaches and actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Huffman has pleaded guilty and sentencing is set for September. Loughlin has pleaded not guilty.


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.