Architect of nationwide college admissions scheme sentenced to more than three years in prison


Date: January 4, 2023


The orchestrator of a nationwide conspiracy that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and the admission of students as fake athletic recruits to elite universities – including Georgetown, Stanford, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Texas, Wake Forest and Yale – was sentenced today in federal court in Boston.

William "Rick" Singer, of St. Petersburg, Florida., formerly of Newport Beach, California, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Rya W. Zobel to 42 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Singer was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $10,668,841 to the Internal Revenue Service and to forfeit specific assets with a value in excess of $5.3 million and approximately $3.4 million in the form of a forfeiture money judgment. In March 2019, Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice.

"Rick Singer was the architect of a sprawling criminal enterprise that corrupted the admissions process at several of the nation's most elite universities. His decade-long scheme resembled something out of a Hollywood movie. He courted the entitled, rich and famous, who were so desperate for their children to secure college admission, that they lied, cheated and bribed to get them in," said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. "While this historic case generated headlines around the globe with privilege, celebrity and entitlement at its core, it also exposed the profound failings in the college admissions process. There should not be a separate college admissions process for the rich, powerful and entitled. This case exposed that there is. But it also resulted in meaningful changes in the college admissions process and I am incredibly proud of that."

"Access to a quality education is a key pillar of our society and the American institutions that are educating our future leaders are second to none. But maintaining fairness in the access to these great institutions is also a vital part of this system," said Joleen D. Simpson, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations in Boston. "Today's sentence should send a clear message and serve as a deterrent to those who might contemplate similar fraudulent schemes."

"Rick Singer was the mastermind of a massive criminal enterprise that undermined the college admissions process at universities all across the country. Fueled by pure and simple greed, Mr. Singer raked in millions of dollars in his corrupt scheme in which he rigged the system, making it much easier for far less qualified students and their families to buy their way into some of this country's most elite universities. With every bribe he paid, he sold out hardworking students a little more. There is no question the damage he has done is profound and today's sentence shows that there are significant consequences for his criminal conduct," said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division. "Operation Varsity Blues uncovered a bold and shameless decade-long scheme that undercut hard-working students trying to get into these prestigious universities the right way. Everyone we've arrested, charged, and convicted to date were integral to the scheme's success, but without Rick Singer, they never would have succeeded."

"Today's action shows that Mr. Singer abused his position to help scores of parents cheat their way through the college admissions process. In doing so, he damaged the reputation of the schools and hurt legitimate students who sought admission to those schools. That is unacceptable," said Terry Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Eastern Regional Office.

Singer owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network LLC (The Key) – a for-profit college counseling and preparation business – and served as the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF) – a non-profit corporation that he established as a purported charity to provide educational and self-enrichment programs for disadvantaged youth.

Between approximately 2011 and February 2019, Singer conspired with dozens of parents, athletic coaches, a university athletics administrator, and others, to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of students to colleges and universities including Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, USC, the University of Texas, Wake Forest and Yale. The conspiracy involved paying off test proctors and administrators to permit cheating on college entrance exams and bribing university athletic coaches and administrators to designate applicants as purported athletic recruits based on fabricated credentials.

Singer facilitated cheating on the SAT and ACT exams for his clients by instructing them to seek extended time for their children on college entrance exams, which often involved having the children purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain the required medical documentation. Once the extended time was granted, Singer instructed the clients to change the location of the exams to a test center where corrupt test proctors took the exams in place of the students, gave the students the correct answers during the exams, or corrected the students' answers after they completed the exams, and corrupt test administrators permitted the cheating to occur. In many instances, the students taking the exams were unaware that their parents had arranged for the cheating.

Singer also accepted payments from parents to bribe coaches and university athletics administrators to designate their children as purported athletic recruits, regardless of their athletic experience or abilities. As part of the scheme, Singer directed his associates to create falsified athletic "profiles" for the students, which were then submitted to the university admissions offices in support of the students' applications. The profiles included fake athletic honors and, in some instances, staged or photoshopped photos purporting to show the students engaged in athletic activity.

To conceal the scheme, Singer used the Key Worldwide Foundation to disguise bribe payments as purported charitable contributions, thereby enabling clients to deduct the bribes from their federal income taxes. In total, Singer accepted more than $25 million from his clients as part of the scheme – of which he paid bribes totaling more than $7 million and transferred, spent, or otherwise used more than $15 million for his own benefit.

In total, 55 defendants were charged for their involvement in Singer's exam cheating and athletic recruitment conspiracy. Of those, 53 were convicted – either by guilty plea or jury conviction following trial. One defendant received a Presidential Pardon and one defendant entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the government. To date, the government has collected $8,880,802 in forfeiture from seized bank accounts, real estate and voluntary payments, $5,682,954 in fines and $96,960 in restitution. For more information on defendants charged in the conspiracy, please visit the United States Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts, Investigations of College Admissions and Testing Bribery Scheme page.

U.S. Attorney Rollins, IRS SAC Simpson, FBI SAC Bonavolonta, and DOE-OIG SAC Harris made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen E. Frank, Leslie A. Wright, Kristen A. Kearney, Ian J. Stearns and Kriss Basil of Rollins' Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Head, Chief of Rollins' Asset Forfeiture Unit, prosecuted the case.