The confessed ringleader of the largest college bribery scandal in history tried to recruit seven Stanford University coaches between 2009 and 2019 as part of his scheme to get students admitted to the elite school, the university announced on Tuesday.
Of those seven, only one coach at Stanford agreed to participate in William “Rick” Singer’s scheme, accepting bribes in exchange for endorsing applicants, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a letter to the university community. Tessier-Lavigne’s letter included a summary of an external review of the university’s policies and practices in the wake of the nationwide scandal, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” by the FBI.
Former Stanford head sailing coach John Vandemoer, who was fired in March, was sentenced in June to two years of supervised release and six months of home detention after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy. Vandemoer admitted that he accepted $610,000 in payments to facilitate the admission of students as sailing recruits to Stanford, and he was the first defendant to be punished in the scandal. Vandemoer was given a lenient sentence, in part, because the money he received went to the sailing program instead of his own bank account.
Vandemoer, Tessier-Lavigne said, tried to flag at least two of Singer’s clients as recruited athletes in exchange for money. Neither of those candidates were accepted to the school. But another client of Singer’s who was accepted to Stanford allegedly falsified information in her application about sailing. Her admission was later rescinded, according to Tessier-Lavigne.
In addition to university officials, dozens of prominent parents, including Emmy Award-winning actress Felicity Huffman and Full House star Lori Loughlin were ensnared in the wide-ranging scheme, which involved colleges all over the country. Huffman was sentenced to two weeks in prison after she admitted to paying a Harvard graduate $15,000 to correct her eldest daughter’s answers on the SAT.
Loughlin, meanwhile, has maintained her innocence even in the face of additional indictments in recent months on charges of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.
In his letter, Tessier-Lavigne said the review of Stanford policies was conducted by law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, which interviewed more than 55 people and reviewed at least 35,000 documents. Tessier-Lavigne said Stanford’s admissions system, which includes a review of athletic recruits by the admissions office—not just the athletic department—“appears to have made it harder for Singer to manipulate the process.”
After the scheme was announced and the review began, Stanford followed other steps to verify that the university had received no other contributions from Singer’s sham charity foundation, said Tessier-Lavigne. The university also implemented a second-level review process to “confirm the athletic credentials of all recruited student-athletes” and developed “enhanced controls in the university’s gift acceptance process,” he said.
The state attorney general’s office has recommended that the university redistribute the $770,000 in funds that went to Stanford via Singer’s foundation “to an entity or entities supporting financially challenged high school students who are seeking financial support and enhanced preparation toward their college admission.” The university said it will release more details about its plans to follow that suggestion in the near future.
“Taken together, these steps provide for clearer policies, more training, fuller communication and stronger vetting that will serve as a bulwark against fraudulent efforts in the future,” Tessier-Lavigne added.