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Former real estate executive hit with six-month prison term in college admissions cheating scandal

Toby MacFarlane paid $450,000 in bribes to get his children admitted to USC as fake sports recruits, according to prosecutors.
Toby MacFarlane paid $450,000 in bribes to get his children admitted to USC as fake sports recruits, according to prosecutors. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press/File/Associated Press

A former real estate executive got hit with a six-month federal prison term Wednesday for paying $450,000 in bribes to get his children admitted to USC as fake sports recruits in the college admissions cheating scandal, prosecutors said.

Toby Macfarlane, 56, of Del Mar, Calif., learned his fate during a hearing in US District Court in Boston, according to prosecutors. Macfarlane had pleaded guilty in that courthouse in June to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

In addition to six months in prison, Macfarlane also was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and pony up a $150,000 fine, authorities said.


US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office had sought a yearlong prison term in a recent sentencing memorandum. According to Lelling’s office, MacFarlane’s sentence is the harshest imposed thus far, but only a month longer than the five-month sentence California vintner Agustin Huneeus Jr. received in October.

“Macfarlane’s crime was serious; he secured admission to USC for both of his children through bribery and fraud,” Lelling’s office wrote. “As a result of his conduct, deserving students were denied admission to USC and deprived of the lifelong opportunities that go with it, while the university itself incurred the costs of investigation and remediation and suffered lasting reputational damage. Such harms are difficult to measure with mathematical precision, but they are real and lasting and they demand punishment.”

Macfarlane is one of 52 defendants jammed up in the scheme, in which loaded parents cut fat checks to admitted ringleader William “Rick” Singer to get their children falsely classified as athletic recruits at fancy schools, or to pad their kids’ SAT and ACT scores.

“Macfarlane’s payments in furtherance of the bribery scheme totaled $450,000, on the higher end of the sums paid by parents who have been charged with participating in the fraud,” Lelling’s office wrote. “The sheer size of the payments is an indicator of the magnitude of the wrongdoing, and the value Macfarlane himself placed on the illegal asset he was buying. An experienced businessman, Macfarlane didn’t haggle with Singer or try to get a better deal, because he believed that what he was getting was worth it: a spot for each of his children in the entering class of a highly competitive and prestigious university, and the associated bragging rights and social standing.”


Likewise, prosecutors wrote, “the money paid demonstrates, on its face, that Macfarlane did not act out of desperation. He could afford to give his children every legitimate advantage, but chose instead – or in addition – to employ illegal means to secure an even greater edge over those without comparable resources, or who were simply unwilling to cheat to get ahead.”

In a response filing, Macfarlane’s lawyers had requested leniency for their client.

“Mr. Macfarlane is an esteemed member of his community with a well-earned reputation for honesty and integrity in both his professional and personal lives,” his lawyers wrote. “For over thirty years he excelled in a profession that entailed fiduciary responsibilities and demanded the highest ethical standards. Not surprisingly, those who know him best found Mr. Macfarlane’s involvement in this offense not just uncharacteristic, but completely unfathomable.”

Attorneys for Macfarlane didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Macfarlane also submitted a letter to the court ahead of sentencing, in which he wrote that his arrest “shattered” his professional life, leaving his reputation “destroyed.”


“I know that I alone am to blame for the bad decisions I made and for their consequences,” Macfarlane wrote. “For me, the most difficult thing to accept is the fact that I set such a bad example for my kids.”

He said he wanted to apologize “first and foremost to them, but also to USC, to other people’s families who were applying to USC, to the prosecutor, the Court and everyone else who has been hurt by my actions.”

Nearly 30 defendants have now pleaded guilty in connection with the sensational case, including Hollywood star Felicity Huffman, who served less than two weeks in prison for paying a $15,000 bribe to pad her daughter’s SAT score.

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