Operation Varsity Blues (2021) Movie Script

I'm about to check
my USC decision.
I know it'll be okay if I don't.
I saw a lot of people got rejected, so
I'm already on the page.
It says "status update."
- "New update."
- I clicked it.
Okay, status update.
This is my ultimate dream school.
I'm getting rejected. I already know.
I just clicked it. Oh, my God.
Oh, my God.
Wait, I got accepted!
Oh, my God!
This is some crazy stuff.
Let's talk about this.
There's been a firestorm of news coverage
on a sort of college admissions scandal.
Explosive details
about the largest college admissions scam
prosecuted by
the Department of Justice ever.
Our friends are talking about one thing,
this story. It's hit a real nerve.
Real estate executives,
a lawyer, doctor and a litany of CEOs,
all facing criminal charges.
An FBI investigation
called Operation Varsity Blues.
Operation Varsity Blues.
Operation Varsity Blues.
How are you
after the scandal?
- Are you sorry?
- Singer designed the scam
and collected tens of millions of dollars.
Parents paid him top dollar
to pass their kids off as star athletes.
- Rick Singer.
- Rick Singer.
- Rick Singer.
- Rick Singer.
The mastermind
behind the operation.
It is sending shockwaves
across the country.
The money goes
into my foundation as a donation.
To your foundation?
Not to the schools.
Yeah, that way the kids
don't know it happens, right?
You make a financial commitment.
What school you want
may determine how much that actually is.
And so, in terms of things
that are more than half million or 300,
what's that set of schools?
So that's, uh, Georgetown,
Boston College, Georgia Tech,
USC, UCLA, Berkeley, you know.
Okay, that's that's not bad.
She's not a terrific student.
She's been testing very badly.
She's smart.
She's gonna figure this out.
She already thinks
I'm up to, like, no good.
Uh, is Harvard easier
'cause of legacy?
No, it's not.
- That doesn't mean shit?
- Your legacy means zero because
Unless we're donating
to a building, huh?
I went to Cornell.
I've already given around $750,000 there.
Let's be frank, right?
Your 750 is diddly-dink in the world.
I know people
who have given $50 million to Cornell.
Uh, will you send me
where and how I should send the check?
Oh, yeah. We'll send it so that
you get your IRS tax write-off.
- Even better.
- What if they don't get in?
You don't have to worry.
It's a done deal.
Is there a two-for-one
special for twins?
John, how are you?
Hey, Rick.
You're pretty busy these days, huh?
Yeah, we got early decision coming up.
So, hey, I do wanna talk a bit about
your pricing strategy and economic model.
I don't wanna force it on you,
but I just think it could be helpful.
No, no, uh, yeah.
I have a bunch of schools
that we work with directly
and, you know,
it's kind of a first come, first served.
So pick a place you wanna go.
So, if you said Harvard
or Princeton or Georgetown,
you know, one of those things.
Well, if you wanna use my side door
at Harvard, it's about $1.2 million.
But if you wanna go through the back door,
Harvard's asking for $45 million.
-Stanford's asking for $50 million.
-And they're getting it.
That's the crazy thing.
They're getting it
from the Bay Area and New York.
John, this is how crazy it's gotten.
I'm gonna do
over 730 of these side doors this year.
And how many schools
are you doing those at now?
Just like the top 20 or 50 or
I've done a lot
of wiretaps over the years.
It truly is amazing sometimes
what people will say on the phone
when they don't know
that the feds are listening.
I know. I know.
It's craziness. I know it is.
Then I need you to get him into USC,
and then I need you to cure cancer,
and, oh, make peace in the Middle East.
I could do that.
I could do that if you figure out a way
to boot your husband out
so that he treats you better.
That's impossible.
That is impossible.
The government did a wiretap
on Rick's phone. He didn't know.
He was intercepted talking to many people.
Every working mom comes to me
and says, "How do I do it all?"
Well, guess what? You can't.
There aren't many federal cases where
you have 50 people indicted for a crime.
So we're trying to get ourselves,
like, a 34 on the ACT.
Yeah. Yeah.
So Mark will do that.
Really could be a 33.
- Could be a 34. Could be a 35.
- Right.
Can you get me
a handwriting sample?
- Yep.
- And a signature sample.
- So we can get kinda close.
- Yes.
Rick Singer was
the independent counselor
who orchestrated the wrongdoing
in Operation Varsity Blues,
and the court documents
indicate that it started in 2011.
My own research
into Singer's life and career
indicates that, on a smaller scale,
he was deceptive for decades before that.
I'd like to think
Rick started out
trying to be professional
and trying to be legitimate.
For a number of years,
Rick was the go-to person.
He was the only one in town
who did this sort of thing.
If you wanted information about
college admissions, you went to Rick.
I think people were eager to use him.
They were excited.
They were impressed and thought,
"Wow, he knows the formula."
"He knows the rules.
He has the key to the game."
If you're a well-to-do parent
in a school with 500 seniors,
your child is getting a fraction
of the attention you want them to get.
So you do what you do.
You apply money to the problem.
You find somebody who will
independently help just your child,
and help them through this process.
And that's sort of the genesis
of an independent college counselor.
My parents said, "We're hiring
an independent college counselor
who can help give you
a little guidance on SAT prep,
and help narrow your focus
for the colleges you're interested in."
"He'll be a presence in your life
for the foreseeable future,
until college applications are in."
I believe there were
many students he worked with
who had very good credentials,
and he performed
the normal services of a counselor
and facilitated their admission to college
by advising them on their essays
or their recommendations and so on.
He was the go-to
college counselor at that time.
Back then, there weren't many resources.
He had this company called Future Stars.
I had many friends that used him.
It was one of those things
where you had to do it.
If you didn't,
you'd regret it and worry about,
"Did I get into where I wanted to go?
Could I have gotten in if I'd used him?"
He always dressed like he had
just come from the basketball court.
His idea was that
what he was doing was
coaching kids for getting into college,
so therefore he dressed like a coach.
He used to walk around
in his athletic clothes,
and his little monk hairdo.
He wasn't necessarily charismatic.
Didn't crack a lot of smiles.
Was pretty serious.
Very shrewd. Businesslike.
He didn't chat much.
He wasn't very personable.
There are people you meet who feel
like they have this vibrating tension
right under the surface
all the time, and he was like that.
Rick was always
drumming up business.
He was always giving presentations
at Borders, at the country clubs.
And I also knew
what his presentations entailed,
and they were promises
that he couldn't keep and
I would hear some stories
from kids that made me think
that he was a little bit fishy.
A little bit slimy.
I have one acquaintance
who said that Rick started offering him,
"Hey, I could potentially
get you into this school
for a certain amount of money."
Almost from the beginning,
Rick Singer was cutting corners,
at least in a small way.
The word I got from people
who knew him in Sacramento
was he was exaggerating and fabricating
on kids' applications.
You know,
changing their race from white to Latino
or African American so that they
could qualify for affirmative action.
I mean, he was quite brazen.
Because I was always suspicious
of Rick Singer, I started to keep a file.
I started copying things off his website.
"The Singer Group has developed
into one of the US's most successful
life coaching and consulting businesses."
"Within a year, operations
launched in Singapore, Bangkok,
Philippines, China, Japan and Korea."
Rick Singer was frequently telling lies
about his resume.
Somebody told me that he pretended
he'd been a board member of Starbucks.
The more he got away with it,
the more he did it.
We're still on
the preliminary part of the case.
But both indictments brought against him
were incredibly detailed.
-There appears to be a lot of evidence
Is this Gordon Gekko of Wall Street?
No, it's Gordon Caplan. How are you?
I'm just kidding with you. How you doing?
Yeah. Yeah. Good.
Corporate deal lawyer
Gordon Caplan,
a partner at the law firm
of Willkie Farr & Gallagher.
The US tax system
has two fundamental components
which makes this somewhat alluring.
My wife has told me
a little bit about what you guys do.
Uh, could could you just
give me a little bit of background?
Okay. So, who we are.
We are a $290 million company that I own,
with a thousand employees
across the US, 280 internationally.
We help the wealthiest families
in the US get their kids into school.
We have every NBA owner, every NFL owner.
We've got everybody.
Now, these families, they want guarantees.
They don't wanna be messing around.
They want this thing done.
So they want in at certain schools.
So I've done 761,
what I would call, "side doors."
The "front door"
means getting in on your own.
The "back door" is making a donation,
which is ten times as much money.
I've created this kind of side door in
because with the back door,
there's no guarantee.
They're just gonna give you a second look.
My families want a guarantee.
I'm a special agent
with the FBI.
I'm currently part of a squad
that investigates economic crimes,
including various forms of corporate
fraud, securities fraud and bribery.
The facts in this affidavit
come from my personal involvement
with this investigation.
Hi, my name is Rick Singer,
and I'm the founder of The Key.
Rick Singer founded
and operated The Key,
a for-profit college counseling
and preparation business.
He also founded
The Key Worldwide Foundation,
a non-profit corporation that
is exempt from paying federal income tax.
Rick Singer told parents that he could
facilitate their children's admission
via what he termed "the side door,"
a special arrangement in which the parents
would make a donation to his foundation
to conceal the fact
that they were bribe payments.
Between approximately 2011 and 2018,
parents paid Singer
approximately $25 million
to bribe coaches
and university administrators.
This is America. Like, you got money?
Best believe you have access to
certain spaces that other kids don't have.
So I'm I'm really not surprised
Over the last
three or four decades,
higher education
has become increasingly a commodity.
Something that you purchase. A product.
It's a goal in and of itself, rather than
the goal being to get an education.
It's become a status point.
Your status has now increased
because your child is at
what's called an "elite institution."
It's all about bragging rights.
The running line in our industry is like,
"The parents are applying to college."
"The kid is the vehicle
through which they apply to college."
If you're a freshman, I'm sorry,
because you are gonna be thrown
into a world where they're gonna be like,
"College, college, college."
"Go to college.
You have to get the best grades."
"If you're not, you're gonna feel
like a failure. You're the worst."
If you're a parent
and you didn't go to Harvard,
this is your chance to now
go to Harvard, right? In your warped mind.
It's typically accepted
that Ivy League institutions
are the "best" in the country.
But all of those differences
have almost nothing to do
with the academics of the institution.
U.S. News started
ranking colleges in the '80s,
based on one criteria: prestige.
That's it. That's it.
"Prestige" is actually a French word.
In the original French,
it means something people don't realize.
It means "deceit."
That's what prestige is in the college.
It's imaginary. It's an illusion.
Yet people believe in it.
It's not just population growth
that makes it harder
to get into colleges today.
The colleges themselves
have brought it about.
Because the more selective they look
on paper, the higher ranked they are.
Everything these schools are doing is
massaging to try and up the rankings.
And it's a really dangerous game.
Most people
see college admissions,
"Oh, it's based on merit except for
affirmative action for minorities."
My view of the admissions process
is all sorts of different preferences,
with, yes, some students
getting in on pure merit,
but many others getting in due to
preferences that skew rich and white.
One is by preferences
for students who play niche sports,
like sailing or fencing
or horseback riding,
which most kids never get a chance to try.
Then there's making
a huge donation to a university.
That gets them noticed
by the fundraising office,
which will recommend
the candidate to admissions.
Jared Kushner was the son
of a very wealthy real estate developer
in New Jersey.
At the time Jared was applying to college,
his father pledged
$2.5 million to Harvard,
and Jared was admitted to Harvard,
even though by all accounts
he was an average student
who wasn't necessarily taking
the toughest courses in his high school.
A lot of the colleges
won't actually guarantee the admission,
which is interesting.
So you might write a check for $3 million,
and the kid could be rejected.
If you're not writing
a $10 to $20 million dollar check,
it doesn't move
the needle enough for them.
Singer didn't demand
the kind of money that is required today
if you want to absolutely guarantee
your kid's gonna get in.
You know, these parents paid Singer
$300,000, $400,000, $500,000.
What he sold and what they bought
was essentially a certainty of admission
at a bargain basement price.
So I'm gonna make him a kicker.
He does have strong legs.
Maybe he'll become a kicker.
-You never know.
-Yeah. Absolutely.
You could inspire him, Rick.
You may actually turn him
into something. I love it.
Yeah. I know.
-Bill McGlashan, good to see you.
-Nice to be here.
TPG Growth is a firm
people don't know that much about.
TPG Growth
is the $4 billion growth arm
of the private equity giant TPG Capital.
The more successful the business is,
the more impact you're creating.
You get the virtuous benefits of
sustainable, scalable capitalism at work.
Last year I had a boy,
I made him a long snapper.
I love it.
He was 145 pounds. Long snapper.
So what I'll probably need is,
if you guys have any pictures
of him playing multiple sports,
that will be helpful, because I will
photoshop his face onto a kicker.
Okay. Okay, let me
look through what I have.
Pretty funny the way the world
works these days, it's
Devin Sloane, he's a
California businessman, an executive.
We've had the good fortune of knowing you
and sharing smiles
and joy and laughter together.
Last year, I had a boy
who did the water polo.
When the dad sent me the picture,
he was too high out of the water.
Nobody would believe
anybody could get that high.
So I told the dad, I said,
"What happened?" He said,
"He was standing on the bottom."
I said, "No, no, no, no, no."
Yeah, exactly.
You gotta be swimming. Exactly.
-That's right.
-Now, does he
Here's the only question.
Does he Does he know?
Is there a way to do it in a way
where he doesn't know what happened?
Well, what I would say to him,
if you wanna have that discussion now,
is say we have friends in athletics
who are going to help him.
Because he is an athlete.
But I can't say that in front of my son
'cause he knows he's not.
What he would know is
that I'm going to take his stuff
and get him some help, okay?
That he would have no issue with,
you lobbying for him,
you helping use your network.
-No issue.
-You don't have to tell him a thing.
Is Bill McGlashan
doing any of this shit?
Is he just talking a clean game
and helping his kid?
- He makes me feel guilty.
- Um
Or you taking care of him
because you have other interests with him?
No. No, not at all.
It has nothing to do with his--
But he didn't know. His kid had no idea.
He didn't have any idea
you helped him on the ACT.
-That's what he asked for.
-Bill McGlashan?
Asked for his son not knowing.
-All right.
-So he's not been as forthcoming.
-With me?
With you and with his own kid.
He wants it that way.
Your guy Agustin?
Agustin Huneeus, yeah.
He's pushing hard, trying to find out
your guys' approach with your son.
He came to me, and I said I did not
I was not willing to talk to him about it.
He's been pushing me, too.
He obviously wants to get your help,
you know, with his daughter,
and I just said, "You need to
make your own call what you wanna do,
and you just need to talk
to Rick and work with Rick."
No, that's good.
He's pushing hard. Like,
"You gotta tell me what they're doing."
I said, "Listen, this is their situation,
and Bill is very connected.
You need to discuss this with Bill,
not discuss it with me."
Well, he tried that. He tried that.
Just so you know, he sort of
had a conversation with another family
about the side door approach
you have and was sort of suggesting,
"Do you think this is right?"
And I just said,
"Agustin, you shouldn't be
talking about this.
What Rick does
is very specific to circumstances."
And it just bothered me
he's out there talking about it.
Agreed. Agreed. Yeah. And that's
And that's what worries me, too.
I said, "Listen, you are in
a very competitive environment."
"You have to keep what you do
to yourself.
It will blow up on you.
No matter who you think you know,
it doesn't matter."
That's right,
and he's not discreet at all.
That's why I wasn't comfortable
talking to him about it.
Rick Singer provided reassurance.
The reassurance
that other people just like you
are going through this thing.
"I've dealt with this a million times."
Rick was like a therapist or a life coach,
only he was also a criminal.
My profile of Rick Singer
is he's a born salesman.
He was smooth and subtle,
not overbearing,
and knew that he had time.
It's not like someone
has to get into school today.
It's not like the test is tomorrow.
They have time.
So he nurtured the process well,
like a good salesman does.
So what sport would be the best for them?
Is is crew the best?
Is that even gonna really matter?
For me, it doesn't matter.
I'll make him a sailor or something
because of where you live.
Massachusetts businessman
John Wilson.
He runs a private equity firm.
He's accused of paying
more than a million dollars
to try to get his kids
into elite universities.
And same kinda deal? Any sport?
You don't have to play the sport?
That's correct.
Now, um what if
they don't actually get in?
You don't have to
worry about it. It's a done deal.
Okay. That's great.
Okay. I'll send you the information
about the bank and the wiring stuff
in the next day or so.
All right.
Oh, by the way,
mark your calendar for next July
if you want in on, uh, Paris.
-Got a big birthday July 19.
- I rented out Versailles.
- Oh, my God!
You're crazy.
I know. A black tie party there,
so you'll have to come.
One of the amazing things
about Rick Singer is that this guy,
from a kind of obscure background
and without a lot to show on paper,
insinuated himself
into quite a high social circle,
and made an awful lot of money doing it.
My sense was that Rick Singer
had a somewhat unhappy childhood.
His parents divorced when he was young.
He was bright. He had
the gift of the gab unquestionably.
After childhood,
he went to several colleges.
After that, he went into coaching.
But his problem was he was too volatile,
particularly as a high school coach.
He tended to scream at the players
if something went wrong.
Kind of like the Bobby Knight
of high school coaching.
When Sacramento State had a bad year,
they went 4 and 24 one year,
the whole coaching staff was fired,
and that included Singer.
That's when he looked around and he said,
"Maybe basketball coaching
isn't for me after all.
I've gotta switch careers."
And he noticed this new industry
of independent college advisors,
and he became the first one in Sacramento.
It's interesting how his background,
in a way, prepared him for this scandal.
If you think about it,
as a basketball coach in college,
he had firsthand exposure
to how athletic admissions worked,
and that was knowledge
that undoubtedly he put to use years later
in his efforts to bribe coaches to portray
kids falsely as recruited athletes.
He knew
athletic admissions from the inside.
Hey, John. How are ya?
Hey, Rick. I'm okay.
I'm here
in a big rainstorm in Saudi Arabia.
- Saudi Arabia?
- Yeah, I'm in Dubai.
I didn't know they had
storms like that out there.
Yeah, I know. Very unusual.
What's happening?
So I just gave the Stanford sailing coach
$160,000 for his program.
While we were
having that conversation, I said,
"Hey, I'm hoping that this
160 I'm helping you with
helps secure a spot for next year."
"Can I be guaranteed
a spot for next year?" And he said yes.
-All it takes?
- No, that's not all it takes.
- Yeah, okay.
This is not TJ Maxx
or Marshalls or something like that.
-So I want you to have first dibs.
If you want, I can provide
John Vandemoer with a check.
I can send him your $500,000
to secure a spot for one of your girls.
John Vandemoer, he was
kind of lured out to Stanford.
He was a successful
sailing coach on the East Coast.
My name is John Vandemoer.
I am the head coach
of the Stanford University sailing team
By all accounts,
he seemed like a good, upstanding guy.
There were a lot of people
that were surprised, who knew him,
that he got caught up in this.
SF1, take eight, soft sticks.
Audio good?
Almost clear. All clear.
Thank you.
Did you ever
imagine yourself in this situation
before any of this happened?
Never. It's a lot. It's something
I don't think I've fully comprehended yet.
But it's something
that'll impact the rest of my life.
I first got connected
with Rick Singer through a phone call.
He called me one day,
he introduced himself,
said he was a college recruiter,
and was interested in doing more
with smaller sports.
So I thought it was intriguing and agreed
to meet with him the next morning.
What I thought was interesting is that
I was expecting him to text me or call me
when he got to Stanford.
Because Stanford has It's very secure.
You have to have a keycard to kind of
swipe in and out of every door.
And somehow he just showed up at my door.
I was shocked by that,
but it definitely told me
he had connections with Stanford
that were deeper than myself.
Rick Singer is kind of your
California beach bum, in a way.
Flip-flops, T-shirt, shorts.
He was actually really easy to talk to.
I had really good conversations with him.
He was really engaging and drawing me in.
Our interaction
was solely about recruiting.
The way recruiting works at Stanford is
each sport is given a certain amount
of spots that you can support.
He kinda ended with him talking about
this young woman named Molly Zhao.
Hello, everyone. I am, um, 17 now.
I've just graduated from high school.
Rick said that
she really wanted to go to Stanford.
My recruiting was pretty much
done at that point.
So I wasn't considering her for a spot
I could support, and I had told Rick that.
He contacted me
almost right away and was like,
"Is there any other way
you could support?"
"Her family is pretty wealthy."
"They'd be interested
in donating about a million dollars."
My athletic director said that
it's something Stanford could do,
but that a million dollars wasn't enough
to really have an impact with admissions.
So that was it. And I didn't hear
anything from Rick for a while.
In August of that next year,
Rick called me up out of the blue
and said, "Hey, this is fantastic."
"Molly got in, the family's so excited.
Thanks for all you did."
I said, "Great. I'm excited for her."
"It's a big deal to get into Stanford.
But I didn't really do anything."
He said, "Well, they're really excited and
wanna donate $500,000 to your program."
I said, "If they wanna donate $500,000 to
the sailing program for me doing nothing,
that sounds great to me."
I see no evidence that John did do
anything to get Molly Zhao into Stanford.
Why did Rick Singer donate
$500,000 in the name of Molly Zhao?
Only Rick knows the answer to that.
It may have been a huge down payment
for access
to the Stanford sailing program.
He sent the check. I got it
in the mail at my campus mailbox,
and I went in to Development
and told my athletic director
I'd gotten this $500,000 donation.
She was excited for me.
We talked about how
I hadn't done anything for it,
it was out of the blue.
But, you know, I guess
that's the best kind of donation.
At the same time, the head athletic
director for Stanford was there, as well,
and said congratulations,
was excited about it.
I started to explain,
"Hey, it's through this guy, Rick Singer."
He turned to me, interrupted me
and said, "Oh, I know Rick."
I think what we see here
is school administration officials
want to keep the money coming in.
They don't wanna ask questions
of how it got there.
And I think we definitely
saw this in the case of Stanford.
When you'd have
$100, $200, $500,000 donations
that would come in
for something like sailing,
that that wouldn't raise any red flags
or wouldn't be scrutinized.
It seems as if Singer
targeted sports that were under the radar
because the margins are tighter.
He knew the right places to look.
So I've got two kids
at Stanford and two kids at Yale.
I'm trying to find out
who's stepping up first.
Don't matter. 'Cause
I might have a spot for both of 'em.
Yale soccer coach Rudy Meredith
pocketing more than $860,000 in bribes.
You can come in an Ivy League
environment and develop as a player
and still have your Yale degree.
Give me Give me the names.
I'm working on it.
I got a new athletic director
is what I'm trying to tell you.
I'm trying to work it.
Hold on one sec. Let me just, uh
You know, I have no idea
where the hell I am here in London.
Mm-hmm. No problem.
Frickin' hate these
one-way street bullshit things.
I know. And you're on the left side
of the road. Be careful.
Yeah, tell me about it.
Now I'm, uh, at two-three.
Where's four-five?
Where the fuck is it?
Now I'm on the main street again.
I tell you what,
I'm glad I live in the US.
It wouldn't be bad
if you were in Sweden.
Then I gotta
find myself a good Swedish girl, then.
All right. Next time
I'm in Sweden, I'll take a look.
Tell me what you're looking for,
I'll see what I can do.
Yeah. Well, I'll tell you this much.
At my age,
it's hard to find the right people.
That's the hardest thing.
I met Rick through
my very first time on a dating site.
I'd never been
on a dating site before in my life.
And, at 53 years old
at the time, I figured,
"All right. It's Let me give it a try."
There he was, and there I was,
and he messaged me, and
it went from there.
When I met him, did I look him up online?
Of course. Right away.
And I thought, "Wow, this guy is"
Other than
the poor video quality on his website,
I thought,
"This is very interesting, what he does."
My key method unlocks
the full potential of your son or daughter
and sets them
on a course to excel in life.
I thought, "He's really a go-getter."
"He's really out there
doing something good."
I met him out for dinner.
It was interesting,
when we first started
comparing notes about our pasts,
and we both
started working the very same time.
He was 12 and I was 12.
I had a paper route,
and he was the kid
that got the older kids to buy alcohol,
sell to him,
he'd sell it then for a profit to kids.
So I said, "Okay, I had a paper route,
you're a minor
selling booze to minors. Great."
He goes, "Yeah,
I was very industrious."
So we laughed about that.
And he was charismatic.
He was interesting.
He was smart.
It was quick. It was like,
"Nice to meet you. Great. Good night.
I really like you. When I find time,
let's go out again."
- Was he pretty serious?
- Oh, super serious.
One time I sent him an emoji,
the Bitmoji, I said, "Hi."
And he came back with, "You're crazy.
Stay cool in school."
Little goofy.
His own family said,
you know, I made him laugh.
He needed to laugh more.
He was not, uh
wanting to stick around long.
He was just so very busy
with college coaching, house to house.
Another characteristic
of Singer's
was that, you know, he worked nonstop.
From what his former assistants told me,
he wouldn't spend the night at a hotel.
He'd spend it on an airplane.
And he would be, you know, texting
his assistants at all hours of the day,
giving them various tasks.
He was an extremely driven guy.
I got the sense
he had clients all over the place.
I look back on text messages,
and every time we connect, he says,
"I'm in Dallas. I'm in Fort Lauderdale.
I'm in New York. Back to California."
He even lived out of a van
at times when he was coaching.
He had this big Mercedes-type van thing.
He'd sleep in it
'cause it was just easier.
Rick had a passion for just
getting up every morning, 4:00 a.m.,
working out, swimming, cycling, running.
That man was like the Energizer Bunny.
I've never seen anybody
that would just have so much energy
and go, go, go.
I think he lived on about three hours
of sleep a night, from my understanding.
And that was fine with him.
I looked at
a lot of his behaviors and realized,
you know, he was hiding a lot.
He had been leading
and living this secret life.
No wonder why
he couldn't get close to people.
- Hey, Rick?
- Hey there.
-Is this a good time?
-Yeah. It's good for me.
Okay, great.
My name is Agustin Huneeus.
We're sitting in one of the pavilions,
enjoying a beautiful afternoon
at Quintessa in Napa.
And so let's go and taste.
Just walk me through the whole kind of
water polo thing again and how it works.
You and I talked about the economics,
timing and how all that works.
You and I had a brief conversation
about it, but I want to get it straight.
Okay. Okay.
I'm putting together
your daughter's sports profile now.
It'll be a water polo profile now.
I take her transcript,
test scores and profile
to the liaison for all sports at USC.
Football Everybody has to go through her.
My name's Donna Heinel, and I am
a senior associate athletic director.
I have the
By all accounts, Donna Heinel
was a very diligent supervisor
who was really a stickler for details.
She was also getting
20 grand a month from Singer.
And then she
They have meetings every other Thursday,
which are called subcommittee meetings,
where the dean of admissions and two
admissions staff go through the athletes.
It could be water polo
this week, football next week.
It could be basketball.
It depends on where they are
in the seasons and what's going on.
Heinel became the gatekeeper
between the admissions department
and the athletic department.
Because the idea was for the students
to be treated as recruited athletes,
that's virtually a guarantee of admission.
Some of the fake athletes at USC,
it seems like it would be hard to miss.
I mean, there was
a 5'5" men's basketball player.
A high school cheerleader
was made to look like a lacrosse player.
There was a water polo player
who didn't play water polo in high school.
It's pretty remarkable that
none of these things raised a red flag.
And on the rare occasion when they did,
Heinel was there to smooth them over
with the admissions department.
Your daughter will get presented,
and if the committee says,"She's in,"
then what happens is
Donna tells me she's in, we're good.
Essentially, she's been admitted
before she even applied.
At that point, you will send
your $200,000 check to our foundation.
Then Jovan will call me and say, "Okay,
this is how I want the money split."
You understand my daughter's
not worthy to be on that team.
No, no, he's my guy,
and he knows she's not
coming to play. He knows all that.
There were four USC employees
that were involved with Rick Singer.
One of them was Jovan Vavic,
the water polo coach.
Vavic is by far the most successful
coach in college water polo.
Vavic has been charged by authorities
of accepting more than $250,000
in exchange for helping two students
get into USC as water polo players.
Donna Heinel essentially puts
them on the recruited walk-on list,
which happens all the time.
And they just don't show up
for practice, and that's fine.
One of the things Singer took advantage of
was the fact that athletic departments
and admissions offices
both take a coach's word
for the athletic caliber
of the person they're recruiting.
Is there any risk
that this thing blows up in my face?
It hasn't in 24 years.
No, I know all that, but the environment
Like, some article comes out
that the polo team is selling seats
into the school for 250 grand.
Well, no,
because she's a water polo player.
But she's not.
I'm so scared.
Check it. No matter what happens,
you're gonna be fine.
- You have to face it.
- You have to face it. Yeah.
-You're gonna be fine. I promise.
-I got deferred.
You got deferred?
There's an update
in your application portal,
you click on it,
and then that letter pops up.
"We appreciate your passion for
our school. We're sorry to inform you"
"we are unable to
offer you admission to Stanford."
I'm not getting into San Diego or UCLA.
Just makes me feel like shit.
I literally started bawling.
Like, it just angered me.
There were a lot of tears,
punching the wall, cursing.
I didn't leave my room.
I was crying the entire weekend.
I got rejected.
I have seen a change,
and I have seen a progression.
And I do think that students
are more obsessed with college.
I'd say most kids are getting plagued
by this anxiety, and you can feel it.
They're freaking out
when you meet with them.
They're like, "What if this happens?"
"What about that?"
"Will they not like me
because I wrote this one word?"
It's like they're losing their minds
because of it.
Basically, I got rejected by
almost all of the colleges I applied to.
It's awful because
you think something's wrong with yourself.
When we have children and they apply
to colleges, where will they go?
No one's getting into colleges
at that point.
It's crazy. Like, USC's acceptance rate
just went down three more percent.
It's at 12% now, which is like
Most students who wanna go
to college could find a college.
The problem is
far too many students
want to go to the same colleges.
My goals were Ivy League.
I wanted to get in that.
And when I didn't get in,
I was just broken.
I took AP bio. I'm taking
AP environmental science this year. I
I'm not interested in it at all.
Just to have this
extra leverage that doesn't even help.
This is going on
in high schools across the country.
How many advanced classes can you take?
You drop orchestra
because if you don't do orchestra,
you can take another science class.
There's so much pressure on these kids.
Because if a school offers
15 APs and you've only taken one,
you can cross off
the top 50 schools in the country.
You have people who just
go home and all they do is homework.
I hate seeing
how it consumes people's lives.
I think social media
is a contributing factor,
because as soon as
a student anywhere has an acceptance,
it goes onto social media,
so it's just another time
to sort of feel a punch in the gut.
It's just really shitty to feel like this.
And I know that people
that got in are super deserving.
I like to curl my fake lash
with my real lashes.
Olivia Jade is an extremely
successful YouTube influencer.
She had millions of followers
watch these videos where she would,
you know, get up, brush her teeth,
do her morning makeup routine,
pick out outfits.
So it's this very diary-like thing,
but with the added benefit
of branding opportunities.
I created my own collection
with Princess Polly.
I get to reveal and announce
my highlight palette
with Sephora Collection.
She's the child
of the actress Lori Loughlin
and the fashion designer
Mossimo Giannulli.
They supposedly had both of
their daughters, Olivia Jade and Bella,
pose on a rowing machine,
and sent these pictures to Rick Singer
and had them accepted
into USC as coxswains.
I went to high school with Olivia Jade.
I know the school she was at.
I saw a picture of Olivia Jade's sister
on the wall with the seniors,
and it was like,
"Congratulations for getting into USC."
And then I remember hearing later
that Olivia had also gotten into USC.
I was like, "Whoa."
'Cause USC is extremely hard to get into.
So not only one sister, but both of them.
Off to school.
Bye, Olivia. Have a lovely day.
-I know you're so excited.
-I won't. I will not.
There's an Olivia Jade video
where it's the first day
of her senior year of high school,
and she's pretty miserable.
I've gone to one class, and I wanna die.
It's so hot in every single room.
I just wanna go home.
Then she returns home
and she says, "I've never been so happy."
I've never been so happy
to be anywhere in my whole entire life.
Then there's also a nod to a kind of,
like, you know, #blessed.
Remember how lucky
we are to have an education
and how many people
would kill to have a good education.
Or an education at all.
So, as much as I hate it
I still hate it, but I'm grateful
that I get to be educated.
Even though I hate it.
Olivia Jade had said that
she wanted to drop out of high school,
in fact, when she was a senior.
I told my mom I wanted to quit school.
She was like, "That's not happening."
She made me stick it out,
and then my dad made me go to college.
Mostly my parents really wanted me to go,
because both of them didn't go to college
- They did all right.
- They did fine.
- They did fine.
- Yeah.
- They are--
- Hypocrites.
It never seemed
like she was very interested
in what college could give her.
Why should she be? She was
very successful in what she was doing.
Things were going great for her.
In November of 2017,
Donna Heinel presented Olivia Jade's
athletic profile to the USC subcommittee,
and they approved her admission
to the university conditionally.
Less than two weeks later,
Rick Singer wrote an email
confirming to Olivia's parents
that she was going to be accepted at USC
and told them
to keep it hush-hush until March.
The guidance counselor at Olivia Jade's
high school became suspicious
because he didn't believe either
of the sisters participated in crew.
According to the government,
Olivia Jade and her parents
discussed how to avoid the possibility
of the high school counselor
disrupting their admissions scheme.
Olivia Jade asked whether she should
list USC as her top choice school
and Lori replied, "Yes, but it might be
a flag for the weasel to meddle."
Presumably referring to the counselor.
And Mossimo added to that, "Fuck him,"
and said that he was a "nosy bastard."
Things began to unravel
when Olivia Jade's counselor
had a phone call
with a USC admissions official.
Conducted routine
counselor call with USC
to check up
on the dozens of applicants that year.
When we got to Olivia,
USC said she was flagged
as a recruit for the crew team.
I told them I had no knowledge
of Olivia's involvement in crew.
Based on what I knew
of her video blogging schedule,
I highly doubted
she was involved in the sport.
Somehow Mossimo found out
what the counselor had said to USC,
and went to the school to confront him.
I received a call
from the front desk
that Mr. Giannulli was downstairs
and wanted to talk to me.
When we sat down in my office,
he aggressively asked
what I was telling USC about his daughters
and why I was trying to ruin
or get in the way of their opportunities.
His tone made me visibly nervous.
Word of the confrontation
got back to Donna Heinel at USC,
and she left a voicemail for Rick Singer
cautioning about the situation.
Yeah, hey, Rick, look,
I just wanna make sure that,
you know, I don't want the
the parents getting angry
or creating any type
of disturbance at the school, okay?
I just wanna make sure
that those students,
if questioned at the school,
that they respond appropriately,
that they're walk-on candidates
for their respective sports,
that they're looking forward
to trying out for the team
and making the team when they get here.
That's what I just wanna make sure of.
I don't want anybody
walking into their high school
and, you know, yelling at counselors.
That'll shut everything down.
The scandal did surprise me
because it reflected
a kind of blatant illegality.
Bribing college coaches to pretend
that their children were athletes
when in fact they weren't.
Why would a college coach
jeopardize their job and their reputation
to let somebody in for a bribe?
Fundraising was
certainly a big part of my job.
Funding going to the football
and basketball programs
are pretty extreme compared to
what a smaller sport like sailing gets.
The school isn't making money
by having a sailing program.
It's great they offer it for students,
but that program is in the red.
That money has to be either
made up for in donations
or the school is just writing a check
for salaries, equipment, travel.
My dream would be
if my job was just to coach.
All told, I was horrible at fundraising.
It's not something I really like to do.
But it was done out of necessity.
It was always
a struggle to kind of survive.
In December 2018, all the head coaches
are gonna meet with the senior staff.
It's a big deal, that meeting.
In 11 years, I'd met the senior
athletic director a handful of times.
I'm in the athletic director's office.
There's, like, six of them there.
We'd just won a national championship
less than a month earlier,
and the athletic director
hadn't even recognized it.
Didn't say congratulations,
didn't reach out to the team, nothing.
Didn't say congratulations
during that meeting.
The only thing
he was doing was watching TV.
He was facing, you know,
four or five screens on a wall
and was watching basketball.
The only time he looks up at me
and starts really asking questions
is when it comes to fundraising.
Like, "You're doing a great job
of fundraising."
"Keep that up. That's really helpful."
Then he goes back to the television.
That's it for the whole meeting.
This is someone
that knew Rick Singer.
Yes. Yeah, he told me he did.
Rick really was pushing me hard
to really take a look at this student.
He was really interested and knew
I wanted a second assistant coach,
and I was struggling
to fundraise for that position,
and he said, "Hey, through my foundation,
I would like to donate
$110,000 to the program
to get you through
a year or two of funding that position."
He's like, "No strings attached."
"I just wanna continue our relationship
and keep bringing people to you
and have you look at 'em."
I said, "Great. That's fantastic."
I think this was
a slippery slope for John,
and he didn't knowingly wake up and say,
"You know what? Today I'm going to
join this racketeering conspiracy."
But all the government have to prove is
"Did you accept the money
in exchange for something
that the giver of the money wanted
and didn't duly earn, didn't deserve?"
The biggest factor
in the Stanford coach's case
was he didn't personally enrich himself.
The proceeds that he received
furthered the sailing program at Stanford.
Rick Singer was skilled
at leveraging off people.
He had a sixth sense to exploit
and find vulnerabilities
of people he was working with.
From my understanding,
in the Felicity Huffman case,
he told Felicity,
"Your daughter's scores aren't good enough
to get into this school."
Turns out that was made up, false.
The daughter
would've gotten in regardless.
It's identifying those pain points.
Felicity can begin to rationalize.
"Am I a good enough mother?
Have I spent too much time on my career?"
"Don't you want
your daughter in a good school?"
Leveraging off the weakness,
the pain point.
No, his grades
are not good enough to get into SC.
- Is that right?
- Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
That's amazing.
Wow. Okay.
What would her chances be
without this process?
- Zero.
- She won't get in?
Zero. She has no chance.
What he did well,
like what a good marketer does,
he sold the benefits.
It's very simple.
"Would you like
your daughter to go to Harvard?" "Yes."
"Great. If you'd like
your daughter to go to Harvard, do this.
Here's the reality.
Your daughter's not scoring that well,
been mentoring her for two years.
The kid doesn't get it.
If she's not Harvard material,
and you want her to go to Harvard,
we gotta take a different path.
Here's that path.
We'll have someone take the test for you."
"What do you mean?"
"This guy, for $15,000,
is gonna take the test."
This is absolutely unheard of.
To make this happen,
I can make scores happen,
and nobody on the planet
can make scores happen.
Your kid won't even know it happened.
It will happen as though
She will think she's really super smart
and she got lucky on a test,
and you got a score now.
It's the homerun of homeruns.
- And it works?
- Every time.
What is the What is the number?
The number on the testing
is $75,000, okay?
It's $75,000 to get any scores
you wanna get on the ACT or SAT.
If you wanna get into
an elite university in America,
on the ACT, which is scored out of 36,
if you're not
really in the 34, 35, 36 range,
or on the SAT if you're not
sort of 1500 and above,
you're probably not in the conversation.
For many years,
the SAT was explained
and advertised as being an aptitude test.
A very prominent, predictive feature
of getting a high test score
is family income.
The college board and the AC have admitted this for years.
This is not a secret
that's being divulged.
If I were appointed czar
of American college admissions,
I would abolish standardized testing.
It would mean that all of these
wealthy test prep companies
would have to find something else to do.
Register your son or daughter for
the Princeton Review's 1500+ course.
It's a game-changer.
There's a fair warning around
test preparation. This is a business.
Every claim they make is marketing driven.
We even offer a guaranteed score
improvement of at least 150 points.
So you have people out there
who are making claims like,
"We'll improve your score 500 points."
That's worth $1,000 investment.
But it's only worth $1,000 investment if
you have a disposable $1,000 to invest.
All standardized testing
automatically advantages
the people who are already advantaged.
Most affluent people
are accessing people like me,
and 85% of America
just can't access that level of expertise.
A private college counselor's
gonna run you,
on the low, low, low end,
and you're not getting a quality
college counselor, 200, 300 bucks an hour.
On the high end, you're talking
about $500 to over $1,500 an hour
to access these guys and gals,
and it's a lot.
- Hello?
- Hi, Dad.
When you look at it
in light of the scandal,
when you have predominantly rich families
who had every advantage
that said they should be fine on the SAT,
they're gonna score
in the highest demographic,
they had all the prep in the world
that they wanted, and yet they still
Okay, the first thing we need to do,
and I think I mentioned this to your wife,
we need to get your daughter
tested for a learning difference.
Let's say it's my person who does it,
or whoever you wanna do it.
I need that person to get her
100% extended time over multiple days.
When you take the SA or the ACT, it's a timed test. Right?
There are restrictions
on how it's delivered.
To account for learning disabilities,
often accommodations are provided.
You have to have
certain medical documentation
of the need for these accommodations.
And that's one of the avenues
that Rick Singer exploited.
I also need to tell your daughter,
that when she takes the test,
to not be as
To be stupid.
To not be as smart as she is.
The goal is to be slow,
to not be as bright as she is, all that,
so that we show discrepancies.
At the academy,
kids are getting extra time all the time.
- You mean the Greenwich Academy?
- Yeah.
Everywhere in the country.
What happened is,
all the wealthy families figured out,
"If I get my kid tested
and they get extended time,
they can do better on the test."
Most of these kids don't have issues.
But they're getting extra time.
The playing field's not fair.
No, it's not.
I mean, this is I
To be honest,
it feels a little weird, but--
I know it does. I know it does.
But when she gets a score and we have
choices, you're gonna be saying,
"Okay, I'll take all my kids.
We're gonna do the same thing."
And a score of
You would think that would be
The score will be
whatever we want it to be.
So, again, and keep in mind I am a lawyer,
so I'm sort of rules-oriented.
Doing this with you, no way
She's taking the test. It's
It's her taking the test, right?
There's no way any trouble comes of this?
Nothing like that?
So, I, uh
I explained this to you before.
I I know.
- And I apologize, but it's just--
- No. I get you.
- Bear with me.
- Okay.
I will explain to you the process.
You're going to fly to LA
and go on a fake recruiting visit.
You'll visit some schools
while you're out here.
Then what'll happen is Mark,
who is the proctor, will fly in,
and he'll show up on Friday night,
just like you guys would.
On Saturday morning, at eight o'clock,
you guys will show up at the school.
Your daughter
will go in and take the test.
Mark will be your proctor.
She'll be the only one taking it
in the room with Mark.
What we do with kids
who have learning differences
is they write their answers
on a separate sheet to the side of it
so that we can rebubble.
She'll think that
when she's done with the test,
she has taken the test. No doubt about it.
She'll walk out the door
and she'll say to you,
"Dad, it was so hard," or, "I'm so tired,"
or whatever
the typical reaction out of the kid.
You guys will leave, and then
Mark will look at all her answers.
Mark will then take the exam
and then ensure that whatever score
we decide that we want to get,
he has it down to a
It's unbelievable what he can do.
She'll never know
that this actually occurred.
She'll look at her results and she'll say,
"Oh, my God, Dad, I got a 32."
He's the test-taking whiz
who helped dozens of high school students
cheat on their college entrance exam.
Mark Riddell was the one who was
flying out to different testing locations
and proctoring or correcting answers.
I have a client
whose daughter was a big tennis player
and studied with him years ago.
He was a Harvard graduate who worked in
college exam prep for IMG Academy,
which is a school for athletes
in Bradenton, Florida,
where Serena and Venus Williams went.
Very unassuming guy.
But the story was after he had
his first child and needed more money,
that's how he kind of got caught up
in the pitch from Rick Singer
to make a few extra
thousand dollars here and there.
He did not have inside information
about the correct answers.
He was just smart enough
to get a near-perfect score on demand.
If Rick Singer is the linchpin
of this college admissions scandal,
then Mark Riddell is the brains.
One of the things
that amuses me and annoys me
when I see most of the reports
around him being a test-taking savant,
or whatever they choose
to call him in the moment, um
He's an adult who's taking a test
designed for 11th graders.
Anyone worth their salt
in the test preparation industry
should be able to do what he did.
The question is
would they be willing to do it.
Singer, the admitted
mastermind behind the scheme,
paid Riddell $10,000 per test
to fly from his home in Florida
to test centers in Texas and California.
Pretty much everything
in the higher ed system
is based on trust in other people.
At what dollar value will you be
willing to compromise your ethics?
That's the ultimate question.
For me, it keeps coming back to,
it's the wealthy who have the ability,
and, in this case,
the means and the willingness,
to take advantage of these things.
Rick, I had a question for you.
I was able to get
my younger daughter the multi-day ACT.
Good. You got her extended time
over multiple days. Got it.
Yeah, so I got that.
The thing is, my younger daughter
is not like my older daughter.
She's not stupid.
If I said to her,
"Oh, we're gonna take it up at Rick's,"
she's gonna wonder why.
Michelle Janavs,
whose family created
the famous snack Hot Pockets,
accused of paying 100 grand
to boost her daughter's ACT score
and get her into USC
as a bogus volleyball recruit.
How do you do this
without telling the kids?
Well, in most cases, Michelle,
none of the kids know.
Right, but how
No, I understand she won't even know,
but how do you explain it to her?
You don't have to say anything.
For the school,
say you'll be up in LA for the weekend.
That's what we did last time.
My younger daughter
is the issue, because she'll say,
"Like, why am I taking it up there?"
You'll just say that,
"You're going to do it up here
because it's really easy.
It's convenient."
I thought the conversations that were
recorded on tape were achingly poignant.
You ache for the children
who read these transcripts,
and you may also ache
for the parents who, I'm sure,
bitterly regret being so candid.
She's smart.
She's gonna figure this out.
She's gonna say to me
She already thinks that I'm,
like, up to no good, and I just
I didn't wanna talk about this with her.
No, no, yeah, I got it. I totally get it.
She's totally different
than my older daughter.
Like, she really needs to think that
My older daughter was like,
"I don't really care."
"This test is bullshit.
I don't wanna take it."
And my younger daughter is
actually studying to try to get a 34.
So it would
It would actually be a great boost to her.
My older daughter,
she came to me and she was like,
"You're not gonna
tell my sister, are you?"
And I was like, "No."
It's weird.
It's just weird family dynamics,
but every kid is different.
Rick Singer's lifestyle
did change and become more lavish.
He moved from
Sacramento area to Newport Beach
and had a very nice house there.
Singer invested
in a whole bunch of quixotic ventures.
Restaurants, a soccer team,
and many other things.
So the money came in fast
and it seems to have gone out pretty fast
to his lifestyle and his investments.
Rick called me
out of the blue and said,
"I haven't talked to you in a year.
I remember you
being extremely sharp with marketing
in the restaurant business,
in real estate.
I think you'd be perfect
as opening up and running
one of my offshoot companies
of my coaching business."
And I thought they sounded great.
Rick had invited a group of us
to a big conference up in LA
with all these
very high-powered individuals.
From my understanding,
there was an influx of many millions
coming in to help him
launch some of these businesses.
We all were assigned our positions,
and then we all took off to start up
these brand-new companies.
It was really exciting.
Rick offered to drive us
back to the airport.
So we get in his Tesla,
and it's rush hour traffic.
Rick is zipping in and out of traffic,
going 90 miles an hour.
We were on the edge of our seats,
hanging on.
So we finally
get to the airport in one piece.
He said, "Bye. Good to see you again.
I'll see you soon."
Go to give him a hug,
and he plants a kiss on me.
And I said, "What was that all about?"
And he says, "Well, I wanted to see.
Maybe there's something here.
Maybe we could date."
I looked at him and said, "You know what?
I knew you from back when.
The amount of time that you spend
with your career, with your businesses,
the little amount of time
you'd even have to return a phone call,
let alone send a two-line text is
We'll never work."
My name is Rick Singer.
My job is to life coach kids and families
through the process
of getting into college.
We have families in Champaign, in Miami.
They send their plane to come pick me up,
come to the meeting for a couple hours,
put me back on the plane,
send me to the next place I need to go.
It's amazing.
When I watched that video
that he sent to do this reality show,
it was a bit shocking to me.
We work in the home of all these families,
so we know them intimately.
I know what their bedrooms look like,
what the laundry room looks like.
How they get along. So I know where
I thought, "Really? You're gonna put
yourself out there like that for this?"
It just didn't make sense.
Everything was so private with him.
The whole time they're yelling,
"It's my life!
If you go to this school
It's the wrong school.
I don't wanna pay 50,000
to go to this school!" Unbelievable.
It just didn't make sense,
especially at the caliber of the coach
that I, you know, believed that he was.
He didn't have
a lot of time for people in his life.
He was married for years,
and he has a son.
When I met him, he was divorced
probably six, seven years.
He'd say, "I'll only do this coaching
for another three, four,
maybe five years, and then I'm done."
I don't know.
I really don't know what made him happy
or what his desires even were.
It's almost like on a rat wheel,
trying to get to a means to an end,
and there was really no end in sight.
So I It's just you and me.
I mean, is that kosher? Can we--
Part of the reason
I'm taking my wife off this,
she's very nervous
about all this, and I just
Uh, I wanna have a um
Let me ask you straight up.
You've never had an issue with this?
No one's ever gotten in trouble with this?
Never had an issue with anybody.
Could you ever
see that happening?
I'm not
I've never seen it happen.
What I'm asking is
could this ever get back to my daughter
or to the family?
I mean, this comes out I, uh
I don't
I don't even wanna know what you guys do.
I'm just
Uh, Rick, so you you understand--
No, I totally get it.
You're absolutely confident
there's no issue here?
We've been doing this for a long time.
Let me put it differently.
If somebody were to catch this,
what happens?
The only way someone can catch it
is if you guys tell someone.
- I'm not gonna tell anybody.
- Well?
It's just
To be honest, I'm not
worried about the moral issue here.
I'm worried about the
She gets caught doing that,
you know, she's finished.
So I I just, uh
It's never happened before
in 20-some-odd years.
The only thing that can happen is if--
- Someone talks.
- Yeah, if she tells somebody.
Oh, yeah.
I, uh She She won't talk.
Singer didn't make a fateful mistake
that led to his being, uh, exposed.
What happened
is that somebody was arrested
on an unrelated securities charge,
and that person traded information.
That financial executive said,
"You may be interested to know that
a coach at Yale asked me for a bribe."
A gentleman by the name of Rudy Meredith,
who had been working with parents
to get their children into Yale
under the guise
that they were going to be soccer players.
The first question they ask Mr. Meredith
after they investigated
and indicted him was,
"Is there anything you'd like to tell me?"
"Yes, there is.
There's a gentleman named Rick Singer
who I'd like to introduce you to,
and I'm happy to cooperate against him
because I don't wanna go to prison."
So just like that,
Rudy Meredith is a cooperating informant.
Then he cooperates against Singer.
Thank you.
Hi, Rick.
Why don't you step inside?
It will happen as though
She will think she's really super smart
and she got lucky on a test,
and you got a score now.
It's the home run of home runs.
- And it works?
- Every time.
Singer agreed
to cooperate with our investigation
and to be interviewed.
However, he was not fully forthcoming
regarding parts of his scheme,
and it was my impression
that he was not taking
full responsibility for his conduct.
Singer told us that
the payments he and his clients
made to university
athletics programs were donations.
We informed him that a payment in exchange
for recruiting a fake student athlete
to an athletic team is illegal.
The next day,
after consulting with his attorney,
Singer agreed
to consensually record phone calls
with other individuals
involved in his scheme.
For those calls,
we instructed Singer to engage in a ruse.
Uh, so the reason
I'm calling is, uh, so,
uh, my foundation is getting audited now.
- Oh. Well, that sucks.
- Uh Yeah. Right?
-They're going back like they always do.
Elizabeth and
Manuel Henriquezof Atherton.
They're accused
of paying $400,000 in bribes.
So they're taking a look
at all my payments.
They asked about the large sums
of money that came in from you guys.
- Essentially--
- For all the good deeds that you do.
Absolutely. Of course
I didn't say anything, you know?
I'm not gonna tell the IRS that Mark took
the test for Isabelle, or that Gordie--
Mm-hmm, right. Yeah.
Or that Gordie Uh, we paid
Gordieto help get into Georgetown, right?
So I just wanna make sure
that you and I are on the same page.
- Okay.
- In case they were to call.
So what's your story?
So my story is essentially that
you gave your money to our foundation
to help underserved kids.
- You Uh Of course.
- And, uh
Those kids
have to go to school.
I'm not surprised
at Singer's level of involvement.
Much like he seized
an opportunity to enrich himself
to help get their children into school,
he equally seized another opportunity
to earn cooperation credit.
He was just as zealous
in cooperating
as he was in getting parents
to pay him to get their kids into school.
-So there's no paper trail of money?
-No, there's no paper trail of money.
So why did Isabelle
do the test in Houston?
We gotta get into that story.
So let me go into it. Uh
Essentially, there's nowhere
where anybody knows,
because, in my books, it doesn't show
that there was any money paid to Mark
for taking the test for Isabelle. Okay?
It doesn't show anything at all
in our foundation or anything.
Just so you know.
So the question is, uh,
if anybody calls me, the response is,
"No comment on the Houston issue."
Remember, she went there
because she needed special--
-I understand.
But I'm not gonna comment.
We gotta be very careful
getting inbound calls.
"I've no idea who you are,
so I won't respond
to an inbound call from anybody."
Rick said,
"I wanna continue our relationship."
"I wanna call you in a week,
and talk about another donation
like I did with the $110,000.
I'd like to continue to do that."
I said, "Great."
So he was true to his word.
He called me a week to two weeks later.
I was rushing out the door,
but he's talking to me
the whole time on this call.
I'm just "yeah-ing" him to death.
He said he wants to donate $160,000
right now, and he'd give the rest later,
to continue a deposit on our relationship.
The only word
I really picked up was "deposit."
I took it as his deposit on a relationship
was that he would
bring me more recruits to consider.
And we'd see how it would go from there.
Then I didn't hear anything from
Rick again and still haven't, actually.
That was the last conversation we had.
That phone call was set up by the FBI.
It turns out that was the most, uh
tragic and most devastating
phone call of my life.
I wanna make sure
we're confirmed that,
going forward, I'm going to at least
potentially have a spot with you.
It'll probably be an athlete like the
other student who wasn't an actual sailor.
I'll put together a profile for her,
and, uh put all the major regattas
that I come up with from the Internet,
and bring someone to you.
- Then we'll make a payment to you again.
- Great.
As someone who's defending somebody,
how did you feel hearing that tape?
It wasn't good, um, from my point of view.
And it would have been tough at trial.
Tapes are
When I was a prosecutor,
I did a lot of wiretaps.
And I played
a lot of wiretap calls or tapes.
And juries love hearing wiretap calls.
They can be good evidence.
I explained that to him.
I heard the call.
I thought this was a good one,
and it could be tough to explain.
So I wanted to let you know,
our foundation is is being audited.
- Which is very normal, right?
- Yeah.
They've been
auditing my foundation.
- Which is pretty typical.
- Uh-huh.
- My foundation is being audited.
- Uh-huh.
Like everybody
on the planet, huh?
So they've been looking at
This wasn't
a typical sting operation.
If you look back
at the larger, white-collar cases,
Enron, for example,
the leadership is indicted.
Maybe the CEO, the CFO, uh, the COO,
and then, really, the indictments end.
Traditionally, a large RICO indictment
like this is gonna be organized crime.
If you're going after
a syndicate that deals drugs,
you start with local level dealers,
flip one of them,
get a wire, work your way
up to the middle-level dealer,
and you end up with the kingpin.
Here, Rick Singer was selling the product,
and yet you had him first.
Then you worked your way down the chain
to get the buyers of the product.
They started
an audit on my foundation.
- Which is typical, right?
- Okay.
- Which is pretty natural.
- Yeah.
I'm gonna tell the IRS
that your donation
to our foundation essentially went--
Wait, wait, Rick.
Let me ask you a question.
Shouldn't we get together over this
as opposed to over the phone?
Whatever you wanna do. I'm fine.
All I'm gonna tell the IRS
is that your donation to our foundation
went to help underserved kids. That's it.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
In listening
to some of the tapes of Singer,
he's as skilled as I've ever heard
of getting someone
to acknowledge wrongdoing.
Yeah, he was pretty good on the phone,
but that's only gonna work
with these white-collar professionals.
Historically, white-collar defendants
have almost no filter on the phone.
We know people at Goldman Sachs
who, you know, recommended you highly.
My husband and I laugh every day
about how great your work was.
We're like, "It was worth every cent."
If he was talking
to organized crime members,
he would have been made as a cooperator
within 30 seconds on the call.
So, what I want is to make sure
that you and I are both on the same page.
Because I'm going to tell them
that you made a $50K donation
to my foundation to help underserved kids.
Not that Mark
took the test for your daughter
or that she took the test
at the West Hollywood test center.
What do you think, I'm a moron?
No, I I'm not saying you're a moron.
The point is that--
I got it, Rick. I got it.
I'll say I've been inspired,
how you're helping underprivileged
kids get into college. Got it.
Hey, Rick. I
You know, I don't
You know, whatever you do,
you do, you know?
I really don't feel comfortable
talking to you about this
in terms of kind of, you know, your
In terms of
In terms of kind of your
You know, your dealings.
Stephen Semprevivo,
a Los Angeles businessman,
paying $400,000 to get his son
into Georgetown as a fake tennis recruit.
You know, all I know is that
we used you for the charity stuff
and we used you for the counseling,
and your dealings are your dealings.
And so, you know
No, I get that.
I understand that.
But at the same time, we were all a part--
No, I don't agree with that at all.
You don't agree
that we got him in through tennis?
I don't. I don't. I
You know, you did what you did,
and that was your stuff, okay?
-You did what you did.
I won't take accountability for it.
You need to be accountable for--
I'm absolutely accountable,
that I got him in through tennis,
and that you guys were aware of it.
I'm totally aware of it
and I accept total responsibility
that I used my relationship
and made your son a tennis player.
We all agreed
that that's what we were going to do.
You know, I don't have any details,
but I think you need
to be accountable for what you did.
So I don't wanna talk
about this anymore because, you know
I think there were two separate things.
And we used you, and we donated.
We donated as a charity,
and it was a good charity.
We were excited we could help.
In terms of
how you do favors for people separately,
that's, you know, I
We appreciate any help you gave us.
But, you know,
we used you in terms of the
In terms of your college stuff.
We paid you well
for the work you did there separately.
So And we appreciate it.
So I think that
If you're trying to turn something around
in terms of what you did
and how you did it,
then I don't wanna be
I don't wanna be a part of that.
You know, I'm so paranoid about
this fucking thing you were talking about,
I don't like talking about it
on the phone.
I mean, I'm thinking, you know, are they
I can't imagine they'd go
to the trouble of tapping my phone,
but would they tap
someone like your phones?
Real estate tycoon
Bruce Isackson and his wife Davina
paying $600,000to help
their two daughters
get into UCLA and USC
through the test cheating scheme
and the athletic recruitment scheme.
Worst case, we'd get a call
from them and they'd say to you,
"Prove you gave this money"
-They'd ask for some.
-But you did.
But I'm just thinking that
Oh, my God.
Because you're thinking
If they get into the meat and potatoes,
is this gonna be a front-page story?
Well, the person
who'd be on the front page--
Yeah, but will I But But if
If they got into the meat and potatoes,
which a guy would love to have is
Look how hard it is
for these kids to get into college and
Look what's going on behind the scenes.
And then you know, the embarrassment
to everyone in the communities.
My God.
It'd just be, uh
God, just
Fast forward a couple months,
we go through the Christmas season,
we get a knock on the door
at 7:00, 7:30 in the morning
and it's two women.
They kinda hold up badges and say,
"I'm from the IRS,"
and "I'm from the FBI."
I said, "What's this about?
What can I help you with?"
"Oh, we just have a few questions
in terms of college admissions and so on."
I said, "Whatever I can do to help."
The FBI agent started
asking questions about Rick Singer.
I described our relationship,
that he brought me recruits,
he was donating, and they said,
"No, that's not what it was.
It was you taking bribes."
They kinda wrapped up with saying that,
"Stanford knows about this.
They're really angry with you."
They gave me their cards
and they said goodbye.
I promptly went upstairs,
sat down on my bed and cried.
I didn't know what happened.
John Vandemoer reached out to me.
He was in need of an attorney.
There was such a sense of urgency.
"You have to meet him before next week.
We have to know if he's gonna take
a plea deal or not within 48 hours."
He flew in the red-eye.
I'd never met him before,
but he just looked He was tired,
and obviously extremely upset
at what was about to happen.
And he says, "So it's not good.
You're being charged with mail fraud,
tax fraud and wire fraud."
"Each of those counts carry
a 20-year sentence in prison."
The allegation is that he joined
Rick Singer's conspiracy,
the object of which was to help
these students, who were not sailors,
get recruited for his team so they would
gain access or admission to Stanford.
In exchange for that,
Rick would wire him money or mail a check,
or hand him a check.
That triggers
the wire fraud and the mail fraud.
They already had Stanford
willing to testify against me.
Rick Singer was gonna testify against me.
I didn't really
have any evidence on my side.
Between my wife and my dad and I,
we kinda decided that it made
sense for me to plead guilty,
um, and be a felon
for the rest of my life.
When you plead guilty, you must
meet with the Department of Probation.
He was being interviewed.
At the time when I was in that
interview, that's when the story broke.
We're here today to announce charges
in the largest college admissions scam
ever prosecuted
by the Department of Justice.
We've charged 50 people nationwide.
I was in Las Vegas covering
some conference basketball tournament
when I got a phone call early
in the morning from an editor saying,
"What are you doing? Whatever it is,
drop it and get to Los Angeles."
Breaking headline of that massive
college cheating scandal late today.
Dozens of actors, coaches
and CEOs are among those charged.
And my phone started blowing up.
My lawyer was looking
at his phone the whole time,
and it was like, you know, "This is huge."
Thirty-three parents have been charged,
including Lori Loughlin
Authorities arrest
Felicity Huffman
at her Hollywood Hills home.
They had guns drawn and everything.
Raids on
the homes of the rich.
Every single one
of these parents should be in jail.
How the schools fell for these photoshops
Use your heads, people. That's not
Olivia Giannulli was famous
for her presence on social media.
Now she's become
target number one for public outrage.
Her famous parents
are charged with spending
half a million dollars in bribes
to get their daughters into USC.
I started watching Olivia three years ago.
I've been watching pretty much
every single one of her videos.
She goes and cheats to get into school?
And takes a spot
from possibly one of her own fans?
She lost a lot of her sponsorships.
They discontinued a makeup palette
that she did with Sephora.
Hey, Olivia. How are you?
How are you after the college scandal?
Have you been speaking to your mom?
In a weird way, she has almost
become a bigger celebrity because of this.
Olivia, it's good to see you
back out and about.
Feeling confident?
People attacked her on Instagram
and her comments were flooded with stuff.
She can look at
people's comments on the Internet
and be, "They're just trolls." No.
I'm not trolling you, dude.
I'm pissed.
I'm disappointed in you.
And, um the only thing
I have left to say about this
John Vandemoer agreed to accept
more than $600,000 from Rick Singer,
the alleged mastermind
of the college admissions scandal.
A neighbor texted me and said,
"Are you reading those articles?"
"Do you see who it is?"
And it was,
"Oh, my gosh, it's Rick Singer."
I started jumping up and down.
I said, "I can't believe it."
"I can't believe they caught the guy.
I cannot believe it."
The messages I was getting
on my phone, the news alerts,
it really was, I thought,
an overwhelming
reaction to a criminal case.
Walked outside,
which wasn't a good idea.
There was cameras in my face,
questions being blurted out.
- What made you plead guilty?
- It was overwhelming.
It was a mob scene.
You're not allowed
to have your cell phone in the courthouse.
I checked my phone, and I have an email
from Stanford telling me I'm fired.
I didn't have a paycheck anymore,
or health insurance.
Most importantly, my kids' daycare,
the roof over our head,
was on the Stanford campus.
The same school that was my victim.
Any message to your former athletes?
They looked up to you.
I also made the mistake
leaving my social media on,
and it's just hate.
I got a couple death threats on the phone.
Anonymous folks sending messages
that they were upset
at what they thought he did.
I was the "worst fat fuck"
that they've ever seen in their life.
"How did I ever fit
in a frickin' sailboat?
How could I do this to Stanford?
I should just fucking die and go away."
The week that it broke,
we got a call from a Chinese guy
who wanted to pay
$10 million to get into Harvard.
I was like,
"Man, have you read the news?" Like
This is the worst week to make this call.
When the story broke,
I was getting ready to go into a meeting,
and I got a call
from a friend of mine, and he says,
"Hey, who's the guy you worked for
at the getting-into-college company?"
I said, "Rick Singer. Why?"
He says, "You gotta be kidding."
I said, "No, why?"
"Turn on the news. Go on Facebook.
Go on Instagram. Whatever."
"Just open up your phone
and look."
And I couldn't believe it.
There's a videotape
of Rick just walking solemnly
with all these reporters,
and not looking at anyone,
and my
My heart just sank. It just sank.
it was time for me to go in.
It's my time to be sentenced.
Rick was still in there.
We literally
have to cross each other right away.
Rick, of course, doesn't look
me in the eye or anything else.
It just, uh
I'll never forget that moment
when we walked by each other like that.
My heart was pounding.
Um, sitting between my two lawyers
and the judge comes up
and "conspiracy racketeering"
is what I end up pleading guilty to.
Judge Zobel
understood that this was a guy
who really cared deeply about his students
and there was no need to send him to jail.
Mr. Vandemoer
is probably the least culpable
of all of the defendants
in this group of cases.
Certainly the parents
are in a different position.
The other coaches
benefitted for themselves.
He did not do that.
She gave me six months of home
confinement, two years of probation.
And I got a $10,000 fine.
I think, for John,
that was truly the right decision.
And he didn't have to serve time.
He's home with his kids.
He's bettering himself.
He's going back to school. He has a job.
He seems, when I talk to him,
that he's in a much, much better place.
I believe,
in Stanford's victim impact letter,
they said they're still in possession
of over $700,000 in donations.
Neither me or any associates
working for me at the firm
could find any case where
the victim of a racketeering conspiracy,
at the end of the conspiracy
ended up $770,000 richer
than they were
at the beginning of the conspiracy.
Rick Singer is back in Sacramento.
He drives around town.
He's still in his athletic clothes.
He doesn't look any flashier.
He swims twice a day
at a local tennis club.
And he gets out of the pool in a Speedo,
does yoga, push-ups,
and he's on the phone.
Sometimes he has multiple phones.
My understanding, he's telling people
that he's not gonna go to jail
because they know the judge, etcetera.
Again, knowing Rick Singer,
you don't know what to believe.
You don't know if he believes it
or if it's an outright lie.
Um, you know,
he's plead guilty to four felonies.
I just have to believe
he's going to go to jail.
Is the system broken?
Any comment on anything?
There's a video
in which you see a guy with a mic
trying to get Rick Singer to answer
questions, and he just stonewalls them.
Can any good come out of this, Rick?
He seems unperturbed
by these people trying to interview him.
It makes you wonder
about the levels of his regret.
He's a bit of a cipher
in his attitude about this whole affair.
You seem comfortable.
You're taking your time here.
Did you really work
with over 700 families?
Rick, is the system broken?
Actress Lori Loughlin
of Full House
was sentenced to two months in prison.
Her husband,
Mossimo Giannulli,
was sentenced to five months.
Actress Felicity Huffman
received 14 days behind bars.
No good will have come out
of these sentences or out of this scandal.
The fines they've been given, meaningless.
In terms of hitting them
in their pocketbook,
what a difference
it could have made if we hit them hard
and put that money
to work for underprivileged kids.
That would have been amazing.
Then you can say
at least some good came of it.
I try not to blame
the families or the parents.
I tend to focus
the criticism on the colleges
and universities that created this system.
If they didn't have these loopholes
and these preferences
for families of privilege,
then I don't think there would be
these kind of temptations.
This scandal is not necessarily a reason
for colleges to change their ways.
Because it makes the colleges seem
more exclusive and desirable than ever.
If all these rich people are willing
to go to these incredible lengths
and risk jail time just
to get their kids into these colleges,
then they must be extremely valuable.
What are we doing to these kids
by pounding them into the ground
with "top 25, top 10, top 5"?
Because ultimately,
where you do go to school
has little or no effect
on what will happen to you in the future.
The United States has over 3,000 colleges.
You have infinite choices.
Forget about USC.
Go someplace else.
You can get a great education
almost any place if you want it.
The parents
in this case didn't believe that.
Because the bigger school
had the prestige,
had the glitter,
had the glamour, had the bragging rights.
Why did these parents choose to cheat this
when their children had so much already?
Part of it seems to be
when you reach a certain level of wealth,
there's a relentless pursuit
of the trappings of power.
You wanna have the fancy car,
the fancy house,
whether you need it or not,
and it just seems to me
that the atmosphere
created in high-wealth societies
is part of the problem.
In America, we love the wealthy
and we hate the wealthy.
They disgust us and they fascinate us.
This story was a perfect
opportunity to see how rich people live
and the realities
of the system being exposed,
and so there's something
incredibly refreshing
to have just a little bit of justice
being served in a sea of injustice.
Rick will be living with this
for quite a while.
If he didn't cooperate,
he would have been charged,
maybe convicted already.
And right now he's out, a free man still.
And his cooperation won't be complete
until the very last person
charged in this conspiracy is sentenced,
and that is most likely
gonna be a while from now.