College counselor says some wealthy parents are hiring lawyers, fearful they’ll be arrested in admissions scam

Allen Koh

Daily Post Staff Writer

The head of a mid-Peninsula college counseling firm said yesterday (March 28) that a number of his clients are “proactively lawyering up” because they had also worked with Rick Singer, the fraudster who has admitted to bribing university officials and falsifying SAT and ACT results to get dozens of wealthy students into top colleges.

“It is a big parlor game in certain circles to guess who is going to be next,” said Allen Koh, CEO of the firm Cardinal Education. “I will tell you, there are going to be a lot more families involved in the story.”

Koh, whose firm has offices in Woodside and Burlingame, said he has clients who are hiring lawyers while claiming, “at least to me,” that they did nothing wrong when working with Singer.

Like Singer, Koh’s firm caters to the “1% of the 1%,” he said. Koh said he knows “numerous” families who hired Singer, and the two shared some of the same clients, including some of those indicted.

Thirty-three parents were indicted in connection with the scheme on March 12, including more than a dozen from the Bay Area. Koh estimates that there are 50 to 100 more Bay Area families who could be implicated.

Singer even approached Koh at one point to discuss getting a client into college by making a large donation to his sham nonprofit, the Key Worldwide Foundation, which would then make a donation to the university, leading to a guarantee of admission.

“I was just shocked that he felt like he could offer a guarantee. That was something I had never heard of,” Koh said. “The way he described it, it didn’t comport with what I knew about development, and so I just couldn’t recommend it to a client.”

Koh said a lot of his clients are “big donors” to universities, but that it was “unheard of” to guarantee admission to an elite school in exchange for a check.

Of course, Singer didn’t tell Koh that he was directly bribing athletic coaches and other officials, Koh said.

Koh’s claims to have hundreds of clients on six continents, though the Cardinal Education website only lists Bay Area cities under “our reach.” The site also lists a phone number for those calling from South Korea.

Services can cost up to $1 million

Koh said his consulting packages range from $50,000 to $1 million or more. The higher-end packages can focus on students facing a particular challenge, such as a family divorce, illness or drug use.

His website states that they take into account “every single piece of the puzzle,” from college selection to “development advising.” “Development” is the word colleges use for fundraising.

The firm also hires learning specialists, attorneys, doctors and school counselors to assist families.

“There’s only a small handful of college consultants who are charging the kind of rates that we charge, and who almost exclusively work with a very demanding and sophisticated clientele,” Koh said.

Some clients use code names

Some of Koh’s clients are so concerned about discretion that they use code names for their family members when emailing with Koh.

“We’re not just helping with college admissions. We’re holistically helping their child have a positive, problem-solving-oriented mindset,” Koh said. “We are basically teachers, but we’re tasked with doing something much more holistic than subject-oriented. And we’re never off duty.”

While Koh’s firm serves many of the same clients that Singer did, he says the scandal shouldn’t give all high-end college counselors a bad rap.

“There are a lot of great people in this industry, and I’m not just shilling for myself,” Koh said. “I think the media is making it seem like all college consultants do is bribing to get unfit kids into college, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

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