Like many of you, I have been consumed with trying to read and listen to everything I can get my hands on relating to yesterday’s announcement regarding corruption in the college application and acceptance process. When I got in my car this morning, NPR was doing a segment on the story – there’s no escaping it for me! Thank you to those who have sent me links and shared personal stories of how this is impacting your family. I remain sick to my stomach with disgust.
Here is an overview of the FBI investigation:
6. Beginning in or about 2011, and continuing through the present, the defendants—
principally individuals whose high-school aged children were applying to college—conspired
with others to use bribery and other forms of fraud to facilitate their children’s admission to
colleges and universities in the District of Massachusetts and elsewhere, including Yale
University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California,
and the University of California – Los Angeles, among others. Evidence I have reviewed shows
that the scheme included the following:
a. Bribing college entrance exam administrators to allow a third party to facilitate
cheating on college entrance exams, in some cases by posing as the actual students, and in others
by providing students with answers during the exams or by correcting their answers after they
had completed the exams;
b. Bribing university athletic coaches and administrators to designate applicants as
purported athletic recruits—regardless of their athletic abilities, and in some cases, even though
they did not play the sport they were purportedly recruited to play—thereby facilitating their
admission to universities in place of more qualified applicants;
c. Having a third party take classes in place of the actual students, with the
understanding that grades earned in those classes would be submitted as part of the students’
d. Submitting falsified applications for admission to universities in the District of
Massachusetts and elsewhere that, among other things, included the fraudulently obtained exam
scores and class grades, and often listed fake awards and athletic activities; and
e. Disguising the nature and source of the bribe payments by funneling the money
through the accounts of a purported charity, from which many of the bribes were then paid.
As I wrote yesterday, so far there are two college tennis coaches – Michael Center of University of Texas and Gordon Ernst of Georgetown/University of Rhode Island – listed among the defendants in the criminal complaint. There is also at least one Tennis Parent. Mark Riddell of IMG Academy has been implicated as well for taking ACT and SAT exams in place of students. That full pleading is here. Please remember IMG is now the sponsor of the ITF’s junior rankings as announced in February. The whole thing reeks of corruption.
In yesterday’s article, I included several links regarding the investigation and who has been charged. Today, I’d like to focus on one defendant: the Tennis Parent, Gordon Caplan, whose child is currently a high school junior. Please note I have not reached out to Mr. Caplan yet nor will I disclose the name of his child.
The following is an excerpt from the affidavit of the FBI special agent assigned to this investigation. CW-1 refers to Cooperating Witness 1, presumably William Rick Singer, who has agreed to plead guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts to racketeering conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy; conspiracy to defraud the United States; and obstruction of justice. CW-1 has been “cooperating with the government’s investigation since in or about late September 2018, in the hope of obtaining leniency when he is sentenced. In or about October 2018, after he began cooperating with the government, CW-1 alerted several subjects of the investigation to its existence, resulting in the obstruction of justice charge to which he has agreed to plead guilty. Information provided by CW-1 has been corroborated by, among other things, Court-authorized wiretaps, e-mails, documents, consensual recordings, and interviews of other witnesses, including cooperating witnesses.”
h. In explaining the scheme to clients, CW-1 typically sought to earn their
trust and confidence by noting that he had previously done the same thing many times before
with other families. As set forth below, for example, CW-1 had the following exchange with
defendant GORDON CAPLAN in a call on or about June 15, 2018 (prior to the time CW-1
began cooperating with the government’s investigation), that was intercepted pursuant to a
CAPLAN And it works?
CW-1 Every time. (laughing)
CW-1 I mean, I’m sure I did 30 of them at different, you know, dates because there’s
different dates, and they’re all families like yours, and they’re all kids that
wouldn’t have perform[ed] as well, and then they did really well, and it was like,
the kids thought, and it was so funny ’cause the kids will call me and say, “Maybe
I should do that again. I did pretty well and if I took it again, I’ll do better even.”
Right? And they just have no idea that they didn’t even get the score that they
thought they got.
Indeed, in many cases, CW-1’s clients referred other parents to him, or inquired directly about
other parents’ involvement in the scheme. For example, as set forth in greater detail below,
defendant AGUSTIN HUNEEUS, Jr., told CW-1, in substance, that he was aware that
McGLASHAN had participated in the college entrance exam scheme, but that McGLASHAN
had not advised his own son of that fact, and that McGLASHAN’s son thus “had no idea … that
you helped him on the ACT.”
6 Excerpts of wiretap interceptions and consensual recordings set forth herein are based
on draft transcripts of those recordings.
i. The children of CW-1’s clients submitted the fraudulently obtained exam
scores as part of their applications to universities nationwide, including Boston College, Boston
University and Northeastern University in the District of Massachusetts.
To read the entire affidavit section as it pertains to Gordon Caplan, click here.
I know enough about how the college admissions process works to see how cheating on the ACT or SAT to get a higher score could help a student get into a preferred school. Until all this happened, though, I was a bit less knowledgeable about the whole idea of how faking athletic skill could help. The FBI agent’s affidavit clarifies that aspect of the investigation though:
27. All of the Universities also recruit students with demonstrated athletic abilities,
and typically apply different criteria when evaluating applications from such students, with the
expectation that recruited athletes will be contributing members of the Univerities’ athletic teams
once enrolled. Typically, the admissions offices at the Universities allot a set number of
admission slots to each head coach of a varsity sport for that coach’s recruited athletes. At each
of the Universities, the admissions prospects of recruited athletes are higher—and in some cases
substantially higher—than those of non-recruited athletes with similar grades and standardized
28. Student athletes recruited by coaches at USC and UCLA, for example, are
typically considered by designated admissions committees, which give consideration to their
athletic abilities, and may admit applicants whose grades and standardized test scores are below
those of other USC or UCLA students, including non-recruited athletes. At Wake Forest, as
another example, approximately 128 admissions slots are designated for athletic recruitment, and
recruited students are typically assured of admission to the university provided they meet certain
minimum academic standards. Similarly, at Georgetown, approximately 158 admissions slots
are allocated to athletic coaches, and students recruited for those slots have substantially higher
admissions prospects than non-recruited students.
So, now we see why sliding in through the athlete angle might work. But, there’s more . . .
The recruitment scheme typically worked as follows:
a. CW-1 told parents, in sum and in substance, that he could facilitate their
children’s admission to certain universities via what he termed the “side door.” He described the
side door scheme as a quid pro quo, pursuant to which the parents would purport to make
charitable donations to KWF. CW-1, in turn, would funnel those payments to particular athletic
coaches, or to university programs designated by those coaches, using KWF to disguise the
nature and source of the payments. CW-1 typically explained to parents that, in exchange for the
payments, the coaches would designate their children as recruited athletes—regardless of their
athletic abilities—thereby facilitating their admission to the universities.
b. CW-1 typically explained to his clients, in substance, that the scheme was
a tried-and-true method of gaining admission to colleges, and that many other families were
participating or had already participated in it, leveraging connections CW-1 had developed at
multiple universities over years of work with prior clients. For example, set forth below is how CW-1 described the scheme to CAPLAN in the June 15, 2018 call, during which CW-1
represented to CAPLAN that he had successfully engaged in the same scheme with nearly 800
Okay, so, who we are– what we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S.
get their kids into school …. Every year there are– is a group of families,
especially where I am right now in the Bay Area, Palo Alto, I just flew in. That
they want guarantees, they want this thing done. They don’t want to be messing
around with this thing. And so they want in at certain schools. So I did 761 what I
would call, “side doors.” There is a front door which means you get in on your
own. The back door is through institutional advancement, which is ten times as
much money. And I’ve created this side door in. Because the back door, when
you go through institutional advancement, as you know, everybody’s got a friend
of a friend, who knows somebody who knows somebody but there’s no guarantee,
they’re just gonna give you a second look. 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. So that, by the time, the summer of
her senior year, before her senior year, hopefully we can have this thing done, so
that in the fall, before December 15th, you already knows she’s in. Done. And
you make a financial commitment. It depends on what school you want, may
determine how much that actually is. But that’s kind of how the the side and back
c. Once parents agreed to participate in the scheme, CW-1 sent bribes to
coaches and, in one case, a university administrator, typically out of a KWF bank account. In
some instances, he directed the money to the recipients directly, for their personal use, including
one recipient who received bribe payments by mail at his residence in the District of
Massachusetts. In other instances, he directed the money to designated accounts at the
Universities that were controlled by the recipients, including in some instances via mailings from
the District of Massachusetts. In still other instances, CW-1’s clients made the payments directly
to the designated accounts at the Universities, as directed by the bribe recipients.
d. In recruiting coaches to participate in the scheme, CW-1 sought to earn
their trust and confidence by making clear to them, as he did to his clients, that other coaches
were already engaged in the same conduct with him.
Remember, CW-1 is William Rick Singer, owner of Edge College & Career Network LLC and executive officer at Key Worldwide Foundation, a non-profit corporation founded in or about 2012 and based in Newport Beach, California. It is an exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, meaning KWF is exempt from paying federal income tax, and individuals who contribute to KWF may deduct those contributions from their taxable income, subject to certain limitations.
Not only were these families cheating to get their child into a certain university, but they were deducting from their taxes the amount they paid to Ernst to facilitate the cheating.
The thing that disgusts me the most about all of this is how many junior tennis players DIDN’T get a spot on a college team or DIDN’T get athletic scholarship money due to the felonious behavior of Ernst and the others being charged. There are players numbering in the thousands who have worked their tails off, both on the tennis court and in the classroom, to have a chance to play college tennis. To think they might have been denied the opportunity because someone paid someone to pretend their child was a high-level tennis player is unconscionable.
While the NCAA has issued a brief statement regarding the investigation (click here), the ITA has not yet released anything official or otherwise.
I realize these are just allegations at this point in time, but if the allegations are proven to be true, I hope justice will be served.