A Los Angeles man who paid $400,000 to get his son into Georgetown as a fake tennis recruit in the college admissions cheating scandal was sentenced Thursday to four months in prison.
Stephen Semprevivo, 53, learned his fate in US District Court in Boston. He’ll also have to serve two years of supervised release, perform 500 hours of community service, and pay a $100,000 fine, though prosecutors said the court “may offset [Semprevivo’s] fine with restitution to be determined at a later hearing.”
Semprevivo pleaded guilty in May to a sole count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
“I deserve to be punished,” Semprevivo said Thursday during brief remarks before Judge Indira Talwani sentenced him. “I am fully responsible.”
Semprevivo spoke softly and paused to compose himself as he apologized to friends and relatives, several of whom were in the courtroom. He also apologized to college applicants who “lost faith in the college admissions process” due to the scandal.
“I let you all down, and I’m sorry for that,” Semprevivo said.
He’s among dozens of defendants swept up in the scam, in which wealthy parents paid bribes to admitted ringleader William “Rick” Singer to get their children falsely classified as athletic recruits at elite schools, or to pad their kids’ SAT scores, according to prosecutors.
Singer funneled cash to coaches and other college officials in on the plot, records show. He’s pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.
The government had sought a 13-month prison term for Semprevivo, a former Cydcor Inc. executive.
On Thursday, Assistant US Attorney Kristen A. Kearney reiterated several points contained in the government’s previously filed sentencing memorandum, in which prosecutors said Semprevivo showed “chutzpah” by suing Georgetown after his guilty plea in an effort to block the school from expelling his son.
“He tried to retain the fruits of his fraud,” Kearney said. “The defendant’s audacity is breathtaking.” The lawsuit was ultimately withdrawn, and Semprevivo’s son was booted from campus.
Kearney also bristled at the contention from Semprevivo’s lawyers that he was a victim of Singer, who they said manipulated their client into participating in the scheme.
“The defendant was no passive wallflower or Singer’s puppet,” Kearney said, noting Semprevivo had his son write an e-mail to then-Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, telling Ernst he was eager to play for him, when in fact he didn’t play competitive tennis.
Semprevivo, Kearney said, “was not doing what was best for his son” but instead sought the “Holy Grail” of a Georgetown degree: “In other words, bragging rights.”
Ernst, who has been fired by Georgetown, is awaiting trial and has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors allege that over several years at Georgetown, Ernst collected bribes totaling $2.7 million, in exchange for designating at least a dozen applicants as bogus recruits.
David E. Kenner, a lawyer for Semprevivo, said during Thursday’s hearing that his client feels “great shame and terrible remorse” for bringing his son into the fraud.
At one point, Kenner said the case didn’t involve “an African-American tennis player” getting replaced by a “white tennis player,” which seemed to puzzle Talwani, who said she wasn’t sure why Kenner brought up race.
Ultimately, Talwani said, “one student [Semprevivo’s son] got an offer letter” to attend Georgetown “instead of a different student.”
Kenner conceded the point, telling Talwani that Semprevivo’s crime wasn’t “victimless,” citing “the people who didn’t get the spot that Mr. Semprevivo’s son got.”
Talwani told Semprevivo from the bench, “I don’t criticize you for being taken in” by Singer, who offered parents a so-called side door to get their children into elite schools via bribery.
However, Talwani asked, “What makes your children entitled to a side door?”
She said she believes that Semprevivo is remorseful and ordered him to surrender to authorities on Nov. 7.
Semprevivo didn’t speak to reporters as he left the courthouse and got into a waiting SUV.
One of his attorneys, Steven C. Boozang, did speak to the media, however, critical of Singer, a college counselor whom the defense said in court papers drew Semprevivo into “a web of deceit” by persuading his son to apply to Georgetown, then saying his odds of acceptance were borderline before dangling the “side door” option.
“Singer could teach a class on How to Extort Someone 101,” Boozang said. “I mean, he’s a scoundrel. . . . And he’s a master, master manipulator. But at some point you turn from being a victim to a co-conspirator. And [Semprevivo] accepted responsibility.”