The wide-ranging case, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues," focused on college counselor William "Rick" Singer, 58, the "alleged mastermind" behind the scheme carried out between 2011 and last month. But the case also ensnared local parents and even Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
Lelling called those involved "a catalog of wealth and privilege." They include CEOs of private and public companies; securities and real estate investors; and the chair of a global law firm.
Singer, who has worked in the college-counseling business for more than two decades through his business The Key, allegedly used his connections with Division I coaches and parents to create the fake athletic credentials for students and gain them admission as athletic recruits. He has been charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice.
Singer faces up to 65 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $1.25 million fine and $400 in mandatory special assessment fees when he is sentenced on June 12.
"In return for bribes, these coaches agreed to pretend that certain applicants were recruited competitive athletes when in fact the applicants were not, as the coaches knew the student's athletic credentials had been fabricated," Lelling said.
A federal court document dated March 5 indicates Vandemoer was engaged in the alleged conspiracy from about 2016 to last February. He pleaded guilty to a charge of information with racketeering conspiracy Tuesday afternoon in Boston, Lelling said.
Under a plea agreement, Vandemoer faces up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. He is scheduled for sentencing on June 12.
No students have been charged in the case nor have the universities to which they were admitted, Lelling said. A vast majority of the admitted applicants are current students.
In a statement Tuesday, Stanford University stated it has terminated Vandemoer's employment and is cooperating with the Department of Justice's investigation.
"The alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford's values," the university announcement stated.
The complaint against Vandemoer alleges he entered into agreements with Singer to designate two student applicants as Stanford sailing recruits, though those applicants ended up not attending the university.
The first agreement was entered into in summer 2017. Last May, the student deferred his application for a year, but the Stanford sailing program received a $110,000 payment from Singer to list the recruit in the following year's cycle.
When the first deal fell through, Vandemoer allegedly agreed to give the same spot in the sailing program to another applicant for $500,000. The second recruit was listed as a competitive sailor but had "minimal sailing experience," and in the end didn't attend Stanford, according to the charging document. Vandemoer allegedly accepted $160,000 from Singer to use the funds "for a future student's purported recruitment."
Before his work termination, Vandemoer was in the middle of his 11th year as Stanford's head sailing coach, according to his profile on Stanford Athletics website. Under his tenure, the team won 29 of 30 Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference championships. He previously served as head coach for the U.S. Naval Academy from 2006 to 2008, when he led the Midshipmen to five national championship appearances.
The other coaches indicted in the scheme were from Yale University, the University of Southern California, Wake Forest University and Georgetown University, among other universities, federal prosecutors said.
Stanford stated it does not have evidence that other members of the university were involved in the alleged conspiracy, based on the federal investigation to date, and will conduct an internal review to ensure no other members of the university were involved.
Hundreds of investigators have been looking into the allegations since last May as a result of an unrelated cover-up investigation. All the individuals charged played a role in "corruption and greed," FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta said. The case robbed students nationwide of getting a fair shot at attending elite universities, he said.
"Today's arrests should be a warning to others. You can't lie and cheat to get ahead because you will get caught," Bonavolonta said at Tuesday's press conference.
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