News


William 'Rick' Singer, head of college-admissions scam, had many Palo Alto connections

Defendant in national scandal pleaded guilty to federal charges

Also read Feds: Parents paid tens of thousands to game the admissions system

William "Rick" Singer, the Newport Beach, California man at the head of an elaborate, $25 million fraud to get students of wealthy families into top-rated colleges by cheating on college admissions exams and bribing coaches and admissions officers, has a long history of dealing with Silicon Valley clients.

In one Facebook post for his business, The Key, Singer claims to have shared his "secrets" with clients seeking help for their children with college admissions, including John Doerr, managing partner of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in Menlo Park; the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs; Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun MicroSystems; and famed NFL quarterback Joe Montana and his wife, Jennifer.

In a tweet on Thursday, Montana confirmed he was one of Singer's clients who gave "minimal consulting services" to his family. "Fortunately our kids were able to pick from a number of schools to attend due to their hard work and their merit," Montana wrote.

(The Weekly's requests for comment Tuesday from some of the purported clients were not immediately returned.)

Though Singer's business was founded in Sacramento and then moved to Newport Beach, Singer was no stranger to Palo Alto area families. He would drive into the Bay Area to spend time with a "circuit" of local clients, according to one Palo Alto father whose daughter met with Singer in 2011 and who asked to remain anonymous.

The Palo Alto father said he paid Singer $5,000 for about seven months of counseling, which involved visits to their home, emails and phone calls. He was connected to Singer by another parent, a prominent venture capitalist who "recommended him as a helpful admission adviser." Other parents in that person's firm had also used Singer in the past, the father said.

While calling Singer an "aggressive guy," the father said the college counselor never mentioned bribery, large donations or falsifying tests to his family.

"He did have a legitimate business. I feel bad for other people like my kid and families in my situation where they’re like, 'Oh my god, we worked with this guy. Did we cheat? Did we do something wrong?' I don’t think we did. What we did is what other people do. There’s a whole industry of these people that read college essays and help you. That was definitely a piece of his business and that's the piece we used."

But Singer offered other services, including personal branding, which rubbed them the wrong way. The father said Singer told them about students he had helped start nonprofits and host conferences or events to boost their applications.

The father said Singer’s own background in athletics and as a sports coach came through in his college counseling. There was a sense of, "'This is a game and we're going to win, and I’m going to coach you on how to win,'" the father said.

"On the one hand you kind of like that — I don’t want to be passive in this process; I want to be assertive; I want to be thinking about what I need to do here. On the other hand, it was a little much."

The father said he didn't hire Singer again when his second child was applying to colleges.

According to The Key website, Singer had a 26-year career as a life coach and college counselor and was "widely recognized as an elite-level college admissions, sports, career, and life coach."

The Key provides one-on-one support for students to help design and realize a life plan, according to its website. The company is supposedly located in 81 cities throughout the U.S. and five overseas countries.

"The Key's clientele is all referral based; consequently, the quality of the service provided to many of the world's most renown families and individuals has provided an incredible foundation for The Key to grow its offerings worldwide."

Singer and his team coached more than 90,000 adults, the company claims.

"With their guidance, thousands of high school and college students have received guidance on the admissions process to either attain an undergraduate or graduate degree in every field imaginable," the website notes.

"Don't leave it to chance! Take the guesswork and frustration out of the college admissions equation," the company pitches on its website. "Even a small oversight or mistake in the college admissions process can make all the difference in your son or daughter gaining admission to the school of their dreams or receiving a valuable scholarship."

Through his nonprofit Key Worldwide Foundation, which according to the United States Attorney's Office was used to launder bribes, Singer claimed to fund organizations that further educational opportunities for underprivileged youth. But one Palo Alto-based charity that educated Cambodian children and was listed as having received nearly $40,000 in foundation grants said they had never received any money from Key Worldwide Foundation and never heard of Singer or the foundation until reporters began to call on Tuesday.

Elia and Halimah Van Tuyl, a former real estate appraiser and teacher, respectively, formed Friends of Cambodia after visiting the country in 2005 to document efforts by a social philanthropist who funds projects in Southeast Asia. While there, they saw children scavenging in a garbage dump and started the fundraising organization to help the Centre of Children's Happiness in Cambodia, which had a residential school program. The Van Tuyls also raised funds to get the children through college, and in December disbanded their efforts, deeming their mission completed, Elia Van Tuyl told the Weekly.

Friends of Cambodia, which was not a 501(c)(3) nonprofit but was under the umbrella of another organization, shows up as a grant recipient on Key Worldwide Foundation's Form 990, which is required of nonprofit organizations by the Internal Revenue Service. The foundation listed Friends of Cambodia as receiving more than $19,000 in 2015 and $18,550 in 2016. Notably, Friends of Cambodia is the only organization that actually supported children's education. The other recipients were mainly universities and athletics programs, some of which are now implicated in Singer's fraudulent scheme.

Van Tuyl said his organization never received any of the money Singer claimed to have given Friends of Cambodia and he has no idea why or how his tiny organization, which mostly received small donations in the hundreds of dollars, ended up being declared as having received such large sums.

"Everything I know I learned today," he said on Tuesday evening. "We never received donations from Key Worldwide. I checked my emails. It's a complete mystery to me how we got on their 990 along with a list of colleges."

The Van Tuyls did not have any bank account for their organization. "We don't exist as a nonprofit. No one could write a check to Friends that we could cash," he said.

"It just shows the frenzy and insanity of college admissions," he added of the scandal.

In 2000, Singer and three other educators created the University of Miami Online High School with a purported student population of over 18,000 students annually paying more than $15,000 per year tuition. The company was sold to Kaplan College Preparatory School.

Singer also claims to have been a top executive in the call-center industry. He joined The Money Store/First Union Bank and was executive vice president of West Corporation, according to his online bio.

Related content:

• Listen to the March 15 episode of "Behind the Headlines," where Palo Alto college adviser John Raftrey discusses the implications of the nationwide admissions bribery scandal, now available on our YouTube channel and podcast.

Stanford students file class action lawsuit in admissions scandal

Pressure over college admissions 'out of control'

Ex-global equity firm exec, a grad of Gunn High, implicated in admissions scam

Opinion: Making the college-admissions system more equitable

---

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Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2019 at 10:11 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

What about the connections between this story and Beyond War?


18 people like this
Posted by MAGA
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 13, 2019 at 10:44 am

[Post removed.]


26 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2019 at 10:49 am

Let's make an interesting comparison.

According to a recent report by Kittleman, only 9% of CEOs from the Fortune 500 have undergrad degrees from the Ivy League. Web Link

U.S. News documented similar results with an analysis of the Fortune 100 companies where about 14% earned undergrad degrees from Ivy League schools. Web Link

[Portion removed.]


32 people like this
Posted by Just another PA resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2019 at 11:21 am

Just another PA resident is a registered user.

Everything one feared about the elites in the local community and in the country. Can't wait to see the karmic fallout! I wonder if I'll ever know...


35 people like this
Posted by buy a building
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Mar 13, 2019 at 11:36 am

[Post removed.]


84 people like this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2019 at 12:29 pm

cvvhrn is a registered user.

Seriously this really highlights the rot that at the heart of our community.

As a parent of a child at Paly, I have been witness to this 'Stanford" or bust mentality from the day we entered the school system

The sad reality is that for many in our community, since wealth is no longer as relevant in a place this rich, it seems that the predominant social measuring stick now is elite collage admissions. God forbid you have to send your kid to a GASP state school (Although my wife and I went to SJSU and we live among you).

This prevailing mentality and the inevitable stress and harm it has caused the children we are supposed to be protecting is manifest in our suicide cluster and other issues we debate in this forum almost daily.

SO this whole sad Revelation is simply not that surprising.


23 people like this
Posted by MAGA
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 13, 2019 at 12:29 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2019 at 12:33 pm

cvvhrn is a registered user.

@ buy a building

I would have to agree somewhat as the path to Elite Collage Admissions are:

1) Do the work, get the grades and roll the dice

2) For total dilettantes like Jared with ultra rich status inclined parents, its simply a matter of talking to the right person and meeting an amount to get you name on a building or department. Its a win win, you academically sub standard child goes tot hat elite school, you get a tax deduction AND give yourself a philanthropic aura

3) This scheme which seems target on those rich, but not quite rich enough and lacking a moral/ethical compass, to accomplish #2 without having to shell out the millions needed.


14 people like this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2019 at 12:36 pm

cvvhrn is a registered user.

@ MAGA,

I would agree! If your going to shoehorn in your dilettante children why go through a sketchy middleman. You go right to the Dean. They no doubt are familiar with this process and can guide you through a FBI and Federal charge free admission process LOL


11 people like this
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 13, 2019 at 1:11 pm

I feel terribly sad about this scandal.

Everyday, we hear something new. Corruption appears to be rampant and everywhere, in government, in schools (and in parents), in churches, in pharmaceutical, medical and philanthropical organizations, in sports and wherever else.

When human beings do something amoral or immoral, they know they do wrong and they feel it, and still they do it. We all make mistakes in our lives, but I still have faith that most of us are of good will, want to do right, and reject what the accused did in this scandal.

At least in our country (and in my chosen country) we do have checks and balances. The people involved in this scandal will fall hard, fast and deep, but, unfortunately, they will drag with them many innocent beings.




11 people like this
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 13, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Can't wait for the HBO or Showtime/AMC Show about this.

Wonder if all who paid significant amounts will be at least deposed for testimony for evidence and possible perjury indictment?

No sympathy here, chickens come home to roost


80 people like this
Posted by buy a building
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Mar 13, 2019 at 1:51 pm

> Can't wait for the HBO or Showtime/AMC Show about this.

Best movie plot I've heard: Stanford varsity sailors on a boat in a sudden, terrible storm, where the one kid who actually knows how to sail is washed overboard, forcing the cheaters to try and sail.

Hilarity ensues.


42 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2019 at 2:04 pm

It would be interesting to know how many Palo Alto students and parents have gotten away with this and haven't been caught. Makes it hard for the rest of us to tell our students to "just work hard, do your best, and everything will work out."

Hopefully the colleges across the country will be prompted to re-examine their admissions criteria, and news organizations will stop throwing gasoline on the fire with their rigged, biased school rankings. When the stakes are this high and the game is rigged, of course some people will cheat -- Anyone ever read The Great Gatsby?


24 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 13, 2019 at 2:30 pm

What’s disgusting to those of us who didn’t use any paid “advisor” - however nice or credentialed such persons may sometimes be, is how phony the college admissions “beauty contest” is currently. I have posted before that each student applicant should be required to sign multiple disclosures concerning if s/he received paid adult help/guidance/tutoring (much less full writing of one’s essays/statements/“resume!”)
This would put more daylight on the matter of Tiger Cub applicants vs. authentic self-starters.
Really, students should manage their own lives....this micro-management by Tiger Moms (and some Tiger Dads), irrespective of this current full-blown corruption/fraud scandal in the national news, ought to be reduced. One way is to have audits/checks and have the applicants personally sign/testify to the accuracy/authenticity of 1) their apps 2) their test-taking and “need” for accommodations 3)whether they had parent-paid and supplied adult professional assistance on any aspect of their tutiring/preparation, statements, etc. If contrary info. emerges, the student should be dismissed from the academic institution. Already, there are attempts to compartmentalize and make one person the fall guy/gal; most certainly, all these students and parents were all in on the current corruption/fraud and should be penalized to the fullest extent of the law. Never mind my hope that their lack of ethics will lead to penance and better behavior. It’s a test of the academic institutions involved to see whether they clean house or avoid offending wealthy and powerful families/interests. If they KEEP one of these cheater students in, their families WILL be future big donors, make no mistake!


12 people like this
Posted by Arnold Ziffel
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 13, 2019 at 2:50 pm

I'm sure that some of those high dollar figure 'donations' to high profile universities come with a side understanding about admitting their children. But that's legal.


11 people like this
Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2019 at 2:58 pm

[Portion removed.] Donate a fat sum of money directly to the college and get your kid in. Hey - this is legal, the school or some specific programs from the school benefit. Doesn't matter if your kid is not up to the standard, but at least your generous donation helps a bunch of other hardworking kids.

This is the case of rich, but not ultra rich parents, who wanted to get their child into the college, but couldn't "afford" to pay the millions ..busted .. serves them right !


7 people like this
Posted by OPA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2019 at 3:45 pm

This is so very sad and ugly. The kids who could have gone to "normal" schools and thrived, will forever be seen as lazy, lacking intelligence, and spoiled by bad parenting. Horrible parenting to otherwise fine kids who are growing up in a rat race environment. I can never again look in the same way at some of the parents mentioned here and other local publications. Some of the kids were my child's classmates at Paly circa 2011-2015. I just saw one of the moms associated in the scandal at Walgreens over the weekend .... this is so sad and ugly. I can never look these people in the eyes.


20 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Mar 13, 2019 at 3:55 pm

College is essentially a scam at this point and is clearly a huge waste of resources for society as a whole. We'd be better off if far fewer people went to college.


28 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2019 at 4:17 pm

Annette is a registered user.

One thing's for certain: any student who gained admittance to an elite school the old fashioned way (discipline, hard work, accumulating knowledge, reading, learning how to write, thinking) deserves extra admiration. Those are the people we should all want to see in leadership roles.


22 people like this
Posted by buy a building
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Mar 13, 2019 at 4:22 pm

> One thing's for certain: ... deserves extra admiration.

How will you know? Their family was too poor to get involved in this scam?




(hilarity ensues)


5 people like this
Posted by Ashamed of my Neighbors
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2019 at 4:58 pm

To OPA - I'm not sure why you cannot look these people in the eye when you see them. What they did is not a reflection on your behavior. I would thing that if you made the attempt to look them straight in the eye it is them who not be able to meet your stare or their eyes, if they did, would be full of guilt. At least they should be full of guilt.


22 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2019 at 5:19 pm

Annette is a registered user.

#buy a building - your posts have made me laugh and I'll think of them when this sorry saga hits the big screen. It is too rich to not exploit. SNL should be great this week.


18 people like this
Posted by shane246
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 13, 2019 at 7:54 pm

front door for the poor
back door for the rich
side door for the middle class.
so glad that america doesn't have a class system.


1 person likes this
Posted by why pitty?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 13, 2019 at 8:27 pm

i have no pitty for these people or their children
they knew what they wanted and how to get it
they have been enjoying their spoils in many ways
t.s!!


1 person likes this
Posted by Curious
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2019 at 11:25 pm

Mark Weiss what is the Beyond War connection to this scandal?


2 people like this
Posted by Buy a building; doubtful
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2019 at 11:27 pm

Ummm, the sailor was never admitted and the other never actually applied, despite the recommendation of the coach. So, pretty sure nobody would ever have drowned with a sailboat capsizing.


10 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside
on Mar 14, 2019 at 7:49 am

The rot starts *much* earlier than formal college admissions. There's a disturbing correlation in private middle and high schools between those students who get honors/awards and those students whose parents are on the board, faculty, or fund raising committee. Those honors/awards, particularly those in junior year, affect the applications.


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2019 at 10:41 am

I'm still wondering why "Palo Alto" has become a shorthand the entire Peninsula-- there more more people listed in the complaint in both Menlo Park and Hillsboro than Palo Alto: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2019 at 10:46 am

member1 is a registered user.

The list is posted of all the parents that did this. The Paly staff needs to avoid accusing all other parents who have kids who are wanting to go to top colleges of being abusive to their children. The counseling staff is still there to serve the needs of all the kids and should not be commenting in negative ways about kids'dreams or attempts to get into these colleges honestly. No one should feel sorry for the family that deliberately stomped over honest kids that worked hard and had more talent. There are things you still should not be able to buy, but they did. Every parent that lets kids take AP classes or run track or be in choir etc is not the same. Sick of the weird bias at Paly against smart kids who actually are smart and enjoy working. Sick of them acting like parents are mean and their kids are not authentic.

I wonder how this will affect admissions for next year?



4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Palo Alto....where every child...whoops, no, just mine!...is well above average, in fact a star. Add this to the movie.
I saw the luxury Stanford sailing team at SFO once....very elite treatment.


2 people like this
Posted by LA LAW Is Reality
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Cheating to get ahead is a venerable American tradition & it occurs in just about every field be it school, sports, work et al.

The key is not to get caught.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 14, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Some people with too much money suffer from an Achilles' heel. What is it? MONEY!


16 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 14, 2019 at 5:34 pm

This fraud was exposed to federal prosecutors by a Yale grad/parent who was under investigation for securities fraud. In trying to get leniency in that case, he spilled the beans on this case. He reached a plea deal on the securities case and was not charged in this case. Except for this coincidence, who know how long this scam would have gone on?


4 people like this
Posted by Webster Street
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2019 at 6:03 pm


How many buildings/centers on the Stanford campus are named after a donor? C'mon now, do you really think that some modest or not-so-modest access to something (game ticketss, and very possibly other bennies) haven't been doled out. Yes, there's a line. Maybe it's in the sand.

How else does a school develop a brand name and reputation? No, not on the backs of others. Frankly, I'm glad that the Bing's opened their purse for Stanford. They probably get very good game seats. Have you attended an event at Bing? Accoustics and architecture seldom matched anywhere.


4 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2019 at 6:33 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Concerned 2
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2019 at 9:42 pm

Wow - censorship at its best! Why did you remove my post? Does this site normally violate freedom of speech? The woman that attended Notre Dame and cheated on her SAT there has had her full name included in dozens of news reports across our nation. Again, I’m relieved the corrupt conduct at Notre Dame High School and many other educational institutions is coming to the surface.


9 people like this
Posted by Suspicious
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2019 at 10:27 pm

I do not believe Halimah VanTuyl that she knew nothing about this scandal. It doesn’t look right that she closed a little non-profit in December just when people were getting tipped off about it. This smells fishy.


2 people like this
Posted by Lynnley Browning/Bloomberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2019 at 9:36 am

Hi all, I'm a reporter for Bloomberg News. If anyone who used Singer's services would be willing to speak with me on background, please reach out. 203 858 9937, lbrowning4@bloomberg.net. Thank you!


5 people like this
Posted by Chris G Zaharias
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 15, 2019 at 9:58 am

Chris G Zaharias is a registered user.

Remember ThinkTank Learning's profile in PAOnline back in 2011?
Web Link

I hope there's a sustained witch hunt to ferret out every parent who contributed to this damage to our higher education system.


19 people like this
Posted by Look at St Francis
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 15, 2019 at 10:14 am

The Schott Family building, The Sobrato family building.
It still goes on.
Spaces are taken from those who work hard to get in by the pre-paid "Legacy" students.
I went there and absolutely saw this with various, sorry but, dumb-as-a-post kids getting in because of their family name or donation


1 person likes this
Posted by GLMOM42
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 15, 2019 at 11:16 am

Why would anyone in our area work with a guy who isn't based in our area? There are so so many highly qualified and reputable college counselors in our area and there is only so much a legitimate counselor can do. I know he supposedly had a legitimate business also but the whole thing smells fishy to me.


5 people like this
Posted by shane246
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 16, 2019 at 10:34 am

stanford needs rich people to pay for 20% of undergraduates who pay nothing. plus stanford's prestige and ability to attract top talent comes from maintaining and growing their endowment. I just wish they would be more transparent. say X% of seats are reserved for donors decided through an auction system after applicants meet stanford's bar. it will maximize stanford's donations and everyone knows how much it will cost to buy their way into elite colleges.


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