The former head sailing coach at Stanford, John Vandemoer, is among 50 people charged today (March 12) in a scheme in which wealthy parents and even some Hollywood stars bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said.
The mid-Peninsula residents indicted include:
• Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez of Atherton. He is the CEO of a finance company based in Palo Alto.
• Amy and Gregory Colburn of Palo Alto
• Davina and Bruce Isackson of Hillsborough
• Majorie Klapper of Menlo Park
• Peter Jan “PJ” Sartorio of Menlo Park
• Marci Palatella of Hillsborough
Authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million bribery case, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, against 50 people in all.
The scandal is certain to inflame longstanding complaints that children of the wealthy and well-connected have the inside track in college admissions — sometimes through big, timely donations from their parents — and that privilege begets privilege.
At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance or business, were among those charged in the investigation. Dozens, including actress Felicity Huffman, were arrested by midday.
In addition to Stanford, coaches worked at Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, USC and UCLA. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.
Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children recruited athletes to boost their chances of getting into college. The consultant also hired ringers to take college entrance exams, and paid off insiders at testing centers to alter students’ scores.
Up to $6.5 million per student
Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.
“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.
Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The schools themselves are not targets of the investigation, he said.
No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the teenagers were not aware of the fraud.
Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience.
That, in turn, boosted the students’ chances of admission.
The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in Newport Beach. Authorities said parents paid William Singer, the founder of the Edge College & Career Network, approximately $25 million to get their children into college.
Prosecutors said Singer was scheduled to plead guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy.
What the Stanford coach allegedly did
Vandemoer, the former head sailing coach at Stanford, was also expected to plead guilty today (March 12).
The indictment claims Vandemoer worked with Singer to create “a student-athlete ‘profile’” that “falsely suggested” a Stanford applicant was an elite sailor in the fall of 2017.
In exchange, Singer paid Vandemoer $110,000 from a bogus charity, The Key Worldwide Foundation, which was funded by parents eager to get their kids into elite schools, the federal complaint said.
Around the summer of 2018, the student chose to attend a different university. Singer then paid Vandemoer $500,000 to reserve the spot for another of Singer’s clients, the prosecutors said.
The second Singer client decided not to apply to Stanford. Singer sent Vandemoer $160,000 through KWF, which the two agreed would be a “deposit” for a future recruit, according to prosecutors.
Colleges moved quickly to discipline the coaches accused of involvement. Stanford fired Vandemoer, UCLA suspended its soccer coach Jorge Salcedo, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach.
Several schools, including USC and Yale, said they were victims themselves of the scam. USC also said it is reviewing its admissions process to prevent further such abuses.
Scandal reaches into Hollywood
Lori Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House,” while Felicity Huffman starred in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.” Both were charged with fraud and conspiracy.
Messages seeking comment from Huffman’s representative were not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for Loughlin had no comment.
Loughlin and her husband allegedly gave $500,000 to have their two daughters labeled as recruits to the University of Southern California crew team, even though neither participated in the sport. Their 19-year-old daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli, who has a popular YouTube channel, attends USC.
Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the college entrance-exam cheating scam.
Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them that he “controlled” a testing center and could have somebody secretly change her daughter’s answers. The person told investigators the couple agreed to the plan.
Macy was not charged; authorities did not say why.
Macy told Parade magazine in January that the college application process for their daughter was stressful. The couple’s daughter, Sofia, is an aspiring actress who attends Los Angeles High School of the Arts.
“She’s going to go to college. I’m the outlier in this thing. We’re right now in the thick of college application time, which is so stressful,” Macy said.
Prosecutors said parents involved in the scheme were also instructed to claim their children had learning disabilities so that they could take the ACT or SAT by themselves, with extended time, to make it easier to pull off the tampering.
— From staff and wire reports