Menlo Park father to take plea bargain in college admissions scandal

Peter Jan “PJ” Sartorio

An entrepreneur from Menlo Park became the first of the 33 parents charged in the college bribery scandal to agree to plead guilty, disclosing the deal today (April 3) as Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin appeared in a Boston court along with some of the other defendants.

Peter Jan “PJ” Sartorio, 53, was accused of paying $15,000 in cash to have someone correct his daughter’s answers on the ACT college entrance exam. The exact charges to which he planned to plead were not immediately clear.

Sartorio, the founder of an organic frozen-food company, did not appear in court yesterday, and it was not clear when the Menlo Park businessman would plead guilty. His lawyers did not immediately reply to an email for comment.

The two actresses and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, said little during the brief hearing in a packed Boston courtroom and were not asked to enter a plea.

They remain free on bail. Several other parents were given similar hearings of a few minutes each.

The proceedings came three weeks after 50 people were charged in a scheme in which parents bribed coaches es and helped rig test scores to get their children into selective universities, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, UCLA and USC. The case — the biggest college admissions scheme ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department — has roiled the world of higher education.

Loughlin, 54, who appeared in the 1980s and ’90s sitcom “Full House,” is accused along with Giannulli of paying $500,000 to get their daughters admitted as recruits to the USC crew team, even though neither is a rower. Authorities said the couple helped create fake athletic profiles for their daughters by having them pose for photos on rowing machines.

The Hallmark Channel, where Loughlin starred in popular holiday movies and the series “When Calls the Heart,” cut ties with her a day after her arrest.

Huffman, the 56-year-old former “Desperate Housewives” star, is charged with paying the admissions consultant at the center of the scheme $15,000 to have a proctor correct the answers on her daugh- ter’s SAT.

Huffman, Loughlin and Giannulli have not publicly addressed the allegations.

Prison a possibility

They and others are charged with conspiracy and fraud, which carries up to 20 years in prison. But first-time offenders typically get only a fraction of that, and experts said some parents may avoid prison if they quickly agree to plead guilty.

Local parents charged in the case include Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez of Atherton; Dr. Gregory and Amy Colburn of Palo Alto; Bruce and Davina Isackson of Hillsborough; Marjorie Klapper of Menlo Park, and Marci Palatella of Hillsborough.

— From staff and wire reports

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