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Wealthy parents — including more than a dozen from Northern California — were charged Tuesday as part of a massive nationwide scam to buy their kids’ way into the country’s most prestigious universities. College coaches and entrance exam administrators were also indicted.
The unraveling scam started in Newport Beach, California, where William “Rick” Singer founded a for-profit college counseling business in 2007 called The Key. Then Singer started a separate non-profit charity called the Key Worldwide Foundation in 2012. Prosecutors say the two organizations are at the the center of the racketeering conspiracy.
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Parents “donated” to Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation, usually between $15,000 and $75,000, according to the Justice Department. Some spent more than $6 million to ensure their child was admitted to the school they wanted. The donations were payments to Singer to boost their child’s scores on the SAT or ACT entrance exams.
Singer then paid SAT and ACT test administrators in Los Angeles and Houston $10,000 per test to either take the test themselves or replace a child’s answers. Test administrators would then send in falsified exams to be scored.
In some cases, like the one involving Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer, Singer paid off college coaches to recruit students as athletes, even if they didn’t play sports. For those kids, Singer allegedly created fake profiles with Photoshopped pictures to tout the students’ athletic ability. In Vandemoer’s case, authorities say he promised to trade admission spots to Stanford in exchange for more than $200,000 in payments to the sailing program. In others, the college would agree to recruit the student.
Singer reportedly made $25 million. He’s now charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice, among other racketeering and money laundering charges.