By Nate Raymond
BOSTON (Reuters) – Former coaches from the University of Southern California and Georgetown University are among a dozen people due in court on Monday to face charges that they participated in the largest college admissions fraud scheme uncovered in U.S. history.
The 12 people are expected to plead not guilty to charges that they took part in a $25 million racketeering conspiracy in which wealthy parents paid for help cheating on admissions exams and to bribe coaches who secured spots for their children in elite universities as fake athletic prospects.
Federal prosecutors in Boston this month charged some 50 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman and top corporate executives, with paying into a scheme that ran for eight years and bought admission to difficult to get into universities such as Yale, USC and Georgetown.
The defendants due in Boston federal court on Monday include Gordon Ernst, Georgetown’s former head tennis coach; Jorge Salcedo, the former men’s soccer head coach at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Donna Heinel, who was fired from her post as associate athletic director at the University of Southern California once the fraud was disclosed.
Their lawyers either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, led to the scheme’s accused mastermind, William “Rick” Singer, pleading guilty to running the fraud through his California-based college admissions counseling service The Key.
He called the scam a “side door” way of gaining admission and used it on behalf of clients including Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of asset manager Pimco, and “Full House” actress Loughlin, who prosecutors say paid bribes to have their children admitted to USC.
Prosecutors said Singer paid Ernst $2.7 million in bribes, which Ernst used to buy a house on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, in exchange for helping students get preferential admission to Georgetown as “bought-and-paid-for” tennis recruits.
The charges have illustrated the power that coaches of even lower-profile college sports have to influence admissions decisions.
Prosecutors said Singer also bribed administrators of the SAT and ACT college admissions exams to allow an associate to help students with their answers or correct their answers.
Those administrators were Igor Dvorskiy, the director of a private elementary and high school in Los Angeles, and Niki Williams, an assistant teacher at a Houston high school. Both are scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)