“Okay, so, who we are…what we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school…My families want a guarantee. So, if you said to me ‘here's our grades, here's our scores, here's our ability, and we want to go to X school' and you give me one or two schools, and then I'll go after those schools and try to get a guarantee done.” - William Rick Singer, describing his conspiracy.
The hot story this week is the college admission scandal. Where wealthy elites are accused of bribing their kids into universities that they otherwise would not be admitted to. Dozens of people have been charged in the scheme including the alleged leader, William Rick Singer, college administrators, coaches, and parents. Singer was the mastermind behind the plan and eventually turned government's evidence, wore a wire, and helped bring down the operation that he built. I am going to lay out the basics of the conspiracy immediately below.
The Basics of the College Admission Scandal
The legal components of the allegations are complicated, but the basic principals of the conspiracy are not. For about eight years William Rick Singer operated a national conspiracy where, with enough money, you could purchase your child's entrance into elite universities like Yale, Stanford, USC, and Georgetown.
Mediocre students with connected wealthy parents have gone to elite college for decades and it has not been criminal (see JFK & George W. Bush). What is different in this case?
The alleged conspiracy contained three main parts. 1) College Entrance Exam Cheating; 2) College Athletic Recruitment Scheme; 3) Tax Fraud.
College Entrance Cheating
The ACT and SAT are critical in the college admission process. As part of this conspiracy Singer could, and would, guarantee certain level of scores on these standardized exams. These results were the product of bribing test administrators. The basic process is as follows:
1. Singer had his "clients" ensure that their kids would purport to have learning disabilities such that they would be afforded additional time to complete the exams.
2. Once the first step was complete, the students were to register for the exam at certain locations in either Houston, TX or West Hollywood, CA.
3. Singer had developed a relationship with two test administrators, Niki WIlliams and Igor Dvorskiy. They administered tests at the above locations. So, Singer would collect between $15k and $75k from his "clients" in the form of charitable contributions. These contributions were then redirected, in part, to the test administrators. The administrators were paid up to $10k per test.
4. In exchange for the bribe, a few things could happen. Someone, usually Mark Riddell, would take the exam in lieu of the student, someone would provide the student with answers to questions on the exam, or someone would correct the student's answers before it was graded.
This scheme ensured the students a particular result on the ACT and/or SAT to use in the college admission process.
College Recruitment Scheme
It is no secret that university admission requirements are relaxed for athletes. If you are a recruit, the standard for admission is lower then if you are a non-athlete. Mr. Singer was no fool and took full advantage of this opportunity.
Over the course of this alleged conspiracy, parents made about $25million in payments to Singer (disguised as charitable contributions) to pay bribes directly to University coaches and administrators. Singer would make the payments to the university officials or coaches. In exchange, the university would create a fraudulent "recruitment profile" for the student in question. These profiles were complete with staged photographs, fake prep teams, and fabricated honors.
This recruitment profile allowed the student to be subject to much lower admission standards when applying to the schools.
The clients had to get money to Singer to perpetuate this fraud. Singer was CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF) that he purported to be a charity. The "clients" would disguise their payments to Singer (payment for his illegal services and for the bribes) as charitable contributions which allowed for deductions on personal tax returns.
Of note, after a "donation" was made KWF would send a letter to the "donor" stating, "Your generosity will allow us to move forward with our plans to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth."