William “Rick” Singer promised to help high school students get into elite colleges that seemed unattainable given their grades and test scores.
But federal prosecutors said he used fraud, lies and bribes to make those college dreams come true.
In federal court in Boston on Tuesday, Singer pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States in what authorities said was a scheme that funneled millions of dollars from parents to suborned university officials and coaches through a sham charity and tutoring center.
The fraud enriched Singer while robbing hardworking high school students a fair shot at their dream schools, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said.
Singer’s schemes ranged from bribing university officials and testing administrators to doctoring standardized tests for children whose parents paid him between $15,000 and $75,000 a test, prosecutors said. He used his charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, to launder money from parents and pay off officials and coaches at elite universities, they said.
He founded Key Worldwide Foundation in 2012 with a mission to “to provide education that would normally be unattainable to underprivileged students,” the charity wrote on its tax forms. It described spending thousands of dollars on trips for dental students to help “needy Cambodians” and offering math tutoring to underserved children in Oakland.
The charity’s stated mission also references a key strategy for Singer: “Our contributions to major athletic university programs may help to provide placement to students that may not have access under normal channels.”
Prosecutors allege that Singer was paid $25 million by parents to disguise their children as recruited athletes, helping them win admission to universities including UCLA, the University of Southern California, Stanford and Yale.
Complicit in the scheme were university coaches, according to court filings. Of the $1.2 million Singer was paid to ensure that a student was admitted to Yale, $400,000 was paid to the women’s soccer coach, Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, prosecutors said. The woman was admitted to Yale as a soccer recruit despite not playing competitive soccer, according to a court filing.
The amount of money flowing into Singer’s charity ramped up between 2013, when it was approved by the Internal Revenue Service, and 2016, the most recent year for which tax documents are publicly available. The charity collected $451,000 in “gifts, grants, contributions and membership fees” in 2013, according to its tax documents. In 2016, it netted $7 million.
Among its expenses in 2016 were $85,000 spent on “developing nationwide websites that will enable students to increase their college acceptance chances and aid them in securing an internship while in high school,” the charity’s documents say.
It also paid $825,000 to Gordon Ernst, the former tennis coach at Georgetown University and current tennis coach at University of Rhode Island, for “consulting.” Ernst has been charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering.
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