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U.S. college admissions scandal mastermind Rick Singer sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison

In this March 12, 2019, photo, William (Rick) Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston after pleading guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.  (Steven Senne/The Associated Press - image credit)
In this March 12, 2019, photo, William (Rick) Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston after pleading guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (Steven Senne/The Associated Press - image credit)

William (Rick) Singer, the mastermind behind the U.S. college admissions fraud scandal that ensnared celebrities, prominent businesspeople and other parents who used their wealth and privilege to buy their kids' way into top-tier schools was sentenced to three and a half years in prison Wednesday.

The punishment for Singer, 62, is the longest sentence handed down in the sprawling scandal that embarrassed some of the nation's most prestigious universities and put a spotlight on the secretive admissions system already seen as rigged in favour of the rich.

"This defendant was responsible for the most massive fraud ever perpetuated on the higher education system in the United States," assistant U.S. attorney Stephen Frank told the judge Wednesday.

For more than a decade as an admissions consultant for wealthy families, Singer paid off entrance exam administrators or proctors to inflate students' test scores and bribed coaches to designate applicants as recruits for sports they sometimes didn't even play to boost their chances of getting into the school.

Those sent to prison for participating in the scheme include Full House actor Lori Loughlin, her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, and Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman.

David Sidoo, a Vancouver businessman and philanthropist who pleaded guilty in the U.S. college admissions scandal, was also sentenced to three months in prison in 2020. He was found to have paid $200,000 US to have a professional test-writer use false credentials to impersonate his two sons to write their SATs.

Coaches from schools including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown University and the University of California, Los Angeles, admitted to accepting bribes.

Singer pleaded guilty, worked with FBI

Singer pleaded guilty to numerous charges on the same day the massive case became public nearly four years ago. Federal prosecutors in Boston had asked for six years behind bars.

Singer, 62, began secretly co-operating with investigators and worked with the FBI to record hundreds of phone calls and meetings before the arrest of dozens of parents and athletic coaches in March 2019. Authorities dubbed the case Operation Varsity Blues.

Singer took in more than $25 million from his clients, paid bribes totalling more than $7 million US, and used more than $15 million of his clients' money for his own benefit, according to prosecutors.

Defence attorney Candice Fields said Singer took great personal risk by wearing a wire to record meetings and "did whatever was necessary" to assist the government in its investigation. Fields had requested three years of probation, or if the judge deemed prison time necessary, six months behind bars.

Singer apologized to his family, the schools he embarrassed in the public eye and others. He also promised to work every day of his life going forward to make a positive impact in people's lives.

"My moral compass was warped by the lessons my father taught me about competition," he said. "I embraced his belief that embellishing or even lying to win was acceptable as long as there was victory. I should have known better."

Before Singer, the toughest punishment for anyone involved with the case had gone to former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who got two and a half years in prison for pocketing more than $3 million in bribes.