Former USC coach found guilty of conspiracy and fraud in college admission fraud


[Breaking news update, posted at 4:15 p.m. ET]

Mark Riddell was sentenced Friday to four months in prison for what authorities have labeled his key role in a sprawling college enrollment scam that helps wealthy parents buy their children enrollment in universities.

[Previous story, posted at 3:55 p.m. ET]

The former University of Southern California water polo coach was found on Friday guilty of conspiracy and fraud for extorting and accepting bribes to facilitate the admission of students in a college enrollment fraud.

Jovan Vavic was found guilty in a federal court in Boston for conspiracy to commit fair mail and wireline fraud, conspiracy to bribe federal programs, and fraudulent mail service.

CNN contacted the attorney representing Vavic for comment.

US attorney-at-law in Massachusetts, Rachael Rollins, said her office was “grateful” for the verdict in what she called “arguably one of the biggest scandals in academy history.”

“To say that the behavior in this case was reprehensible is an understatement,” Rollins said at a press conference. “The rich, the powerful, and the famous, dripping with privileges and powers, have used their money and influence to steal college admissions from more qualified and distinguished students.”

The verdict came on the same day Mark Riddell was convicted of what the authorities called his key role in a wide-ranging scam to help wealthy parents buy their children’s rights to universities.

Vavic was accepting bribes from William “Rick” Singer, the former college admissions coach who was the originator of the scam.

Singer was accused of bribing college coaches and sports officials who said a potential student should be admitted to the school as a recruit to the sports team knowing that the student was not a competitive athlete or that his sports profile was false, prosecutors said.

Riddell was due to be sentenced Friday afternoon.

Riddell, a standardized scholar taking the exams, was either given SATs and ACTs aces in place of students or corrected students’ responses before handing them in, prosecutors said.

Riddell, one of the many people covered by the broader plan in 2019, pleaded guilty this year to one conspiracy to commit mail fraud and fair postal service fraud and one conspiracy to launder money.

Authorities arrested and indicted Riddell, dozens of parents, university coaches and administrators in an extensive 2019 investigation known as “Operation Varsity Blues.”

Riddell agreed to a settlement in 2019, which calls for imprisonment at the lowest level of the conviction guidelines. Federal prosecutors have suggested a sentence of 33 to 41 months, a law enforcement source told CNN this year. He was facing up to 20 years in prison.

In addition, prosecutors want Riddell to serve 36 months of supervised release and pay a fine of $ 239,449.42, which is what he earned from his crimes as stated in his settlement.

Prosecutors said Riddell was linked to Singer, who they said ran two general scams: first, to cheat on standardized tests for students whose parents were paying; and second, to take advantage of Singer’s ties to college sports coaches and use bribes to trick their parents’ children into paying school with fake sports credentials.

Riddell was a key player in the test fraud, prosecutors said.

Over the years, starting in 2011, Singer, owner of a college prep company, bribed test administrators to allow Riddell to take tests at the students’ place or correct student responses, prosecutors said. According to authorities, Singer was raising money from a bogus charity that his clients donated to test administrators at a private school in Los Angeles and a public high school in Houston.

Prosecutors said Riddell received $ 10,000 for the test.

“He was just a really smart guy,” Andrew Lelling, Massachusetts District Attorney, said at a press conference in March 2019. “He didn’t have any additional information about the correct answers. He was smart enough to get an almost perfect result on the exam or calibrate the result. ”

Singer, who assisted in the investigation, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges and is awaiting sentence.

The vast majority of defendants pleaded guilty and served their sentence, usually measured in weeks or months.

Among the more prominent parents accused of the testing portion of the program was actress Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit mail and fair mail fraud for paying Singer $ 15,000 to improve her older daughter’s test scores. Huffman spent 11 days in prison in 2019.

Another actress, Lori Loughlin, spent two months in prison and her husband Mossimo Giannulli spent five months in prison for paying $ 500,000 to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as falsely recruited athletes.

Vavic was charged with designating some USC candidates as water polo recruits, which made it easier for them to enter university by relying on false sports CVs in exchange for bribes. He was released in March 2019 after his allegations of involvement in the fraud were made public.

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