Almost four years after the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal rocked the world of higher education, the architect of the criminal enterprise William “Rick” Singer has been sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison. In addition, Singer has been sentenced to three years of supervised release. The sentencing marks the culmination of years-long prosecutorial measures against more than 50 individuals involved in the scandal, including exam proctors, coaches, and wealthy parents ranging from high-powered CEOs to celebrities such as Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin. Many of those involved pleaded guilty and dozens have served prison time, with sentences ranging from a matter of days to over a year.
In March 2019, it was revealed that between 2011 and 2018, Singer had accrued over $25 million dollars from wealthy families who paid him to secure their children admission to some of the most selective universities in the country, including Georgetown, University of Southern California, Yale, and Stanford. Defense attorneys claim that while Singer’s business began as a legitimate college consulting operation, his appetite for higher profit and the increasing demands of wealthy parents for guaranteed admissions led him into unlawful and unethical territory. Singer’s fraudulent activities included falsely designating students as athletic recruits by bribing coaches or doctoring athletic photos, altering test scores or arranging for a co-conspirator to take tests in a student’s place, and soliciting bribes which would be funneled through Singer’s fake charity dubbed Key Worldwide Foundation and his for-profit college consulting firm, The Edge College & Career Network.
According to transcripts released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Singer pitched his criminal conspiracy to parents as a “side door” to secure students’ admission to elite universities. In a 2018 call, Singer described the scheme, saying, “There is a front door which means you get in on your
own. The back door is through institutional advancement, which is ten times as much money. And I’ve created this side door in.”
Singer pleaded guilty to the charges in 2019 and has since been out on bond, reportedly living in a trailer park in St. Petersburg, Florida. In a Statement of Response & Relapse Prevention Plan document filed in December 2022, Singer stated that since the scandal broke, “I have woken up every day feeling shame, remorse, and regret.”
Pointing to their client’s genuine remorse as well as his cooperation with the FBI, Singer’s lawyers requested a sentence of either one year of home detention with three years of probation or a maximum of six months in prison with three years of supervised release along with community service. In seeking a prison sentence of six years, prosecutors noted that Singer’s cooperation in their investigation was critical yet inconsistent, as he thwarted the investigation by “tipping off at least six of his clients” and “deleting text messages and using an unauthorized cell phone,” according to the sentencing memo. They further claimed that Singer used over $15 million dollars that he solicited from clients for his own gain, stating that “his corruption and manipulation of others were practically limitless.”
In the years since the scandal broke, intense scrutiny has been directed towards colleges’ admissions practices and the measures they have taken to ensure that the admissions landscape is equitable and trustworthy. Prosecutors have urged that a harsh sentence will not only help to deter Singer from repeating his mistakes, but will also prevent others from emulating his lucrative illegal conduct.