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Nation & World

Coaches, parents in bribery scheme find jobs in danger

In this still image taken from video, actress Felicity Huffman walks towards the door in the lobby of a Los Angeles court after she is released on a $250,000 bond, Tuesday. Huffman is among 50 people charged in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation's most selective schools.
In this still image taken from video, actress Felicity Huffman walks towards the door in the lobby of a Los Angeles court after she is released on a $250,000 bond, Tuesday. Huffman is among 50 people charged in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation's most selective schools.

LOS ANGELES – Colleges and companies moved swiftly to distance themselves from employees swept up in a nationwide college admissions scheme, many of them coaches accused of taking bribes and others prominent parents accused of angling to get their children into top schools by portraying them as recruited athletes.

That celebrities were among the accused parents – actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman headline the list – created much buzz, but other parents charged included people prominent in law, finance, fashion, manufacturing and other fields – people who could afford the steep price.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents were among those charged. Some parents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, as much as $6.5 million, to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.

“Every student deserves to be considered on their individual merits when applying to college, and it’s disgraceful to see anyone breaking the law to give their children an advantage over others,” U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement Wednesday. “The department is looking closely at this issue and working to determine if any of our regulations have been violated.”

At a brief court appearance Wednesday, a judge allowed Loughlin to be released on $1 million bond and travel to the area around Vancouver, Canada, to work but otherwise imposed strict travel restrictions. Magistrate Judge Steven Kim said Loughlin must surrender her passport in December, inform the court of her travel plans and provide evidence of where she’s been if asked.

Loughlin’s lawyer Perry Viscounty declined to comment outside the courtroom, where a day earlier her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was freed on similar terms.

Even though prosecutors had agreed to it, Magistrate Judge Steve Kim at first said he was “not comfortable” with letting Loughlin keep her passport and travel to Canada, but relented after peppering Viscounty with questions about the projects and signed off on the deal.

Among the other parents charged was Gordon Caplan, of Greenwich, Connecticut, co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, based in New York. Caplan “will have no further firm management responsibilities,” the firm said in a statement Wednesday.

Telephone messages seeking comment have been left with Caplan, who is accused of paying $75,000 to get a test supervisor to correct the answers on his daughter’s ACT exam after she took it.

Hercules Capital, a Palo Alto, California, hedge fund, announced Wednesday that it was replacing its leader, Manuel Henriquez, who has been arrested in New York City and released on $500,000 bail. Henriquez will still hold a seat on the board and serve as an adviser, Hercules said.

Henriquez and his wife, Elizabeth, of Atherton, California, were charged with participating in the scheme on four occasions for their two daughters. They were also charged with conspiring to bribe Gordon Ernst, former head tennis coach at Georgetown University, to designate their older daughter as a tennis recruit to facilitate her admission and with making a $400,000 contribution to a charity to help her get accepted to the school.

Georgetown said he hadn’t coached there since December 2017 after an investigation found he violated university admissions rules. The University of Rhode Island says Ernst, who was hired as head women’s tennis coach in August, was placed on administrative leave.

At a court hearing Tuesday in Maryland, a federal magistrate freed Ernst on $200,000 bond.

His lawyer, Michael CitaraManis, said his client isn’t a flight risk. Ernst had planned to attend a job interview in Toronto soon, he said, “although I don’t know the impact from these proceedings.”

Also among the charged parents was Homayoun Zadeh, an associate professor of dentistry at the University of Southern California. His status at USC was unclear; his faculty profile has been removed from a website, and phone messages seeking comment were not returned.

Mark Riddell – an administrator for Bradenton, Florida’s IMG Academy, which was founded by renowned tennis coach Nick Bollettieri and bills itself as the world’s largest sports academy – was suspended late Tuesday after he was accused of taking college admissions tests. Riddell didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

Many of the coaches were quickly fired or suspended by the colleges. Prosecutors said the colleges themselves are not targets of the continuing investigation.

Stanford fired sailing coach John Vandemoer after he was charged with accepting $270,000 in contributions to the program for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission. Neither student came to Stanford, the school said.

USC fired senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic. Court documents say Vavic was paid $250,000 and designated two students as recruits for his team to facilitate their admission. He has been released on bond. A message was left with Vavic’s lawyer seeking comment.

The University of Texas fired men’s tennis coach Michael Center on Wednesday, a day after federal officials unveiled documents accusing Center of taking up to nearly $100,000 to get a student into school by listing him as a tennis recruit. Once enrolled the student never played tennis. Center’s attorney has said the coach denies the allegations.

At Wake Forest, President Nathan Hatch said volleyball coach Bill Ferguson, who was accused of taking a bribe, has been suspended. The university’s outside counsel is conducting an internal review, Hatch said.

Federal prosecutors said parents paid admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer millions of dollars to bribe their children’s way into college. Some of the payouts went to coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes, and Singer also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students’ answers, authorities said.

Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, California, pleaded guilty Tuesday.

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Melia reported from Hartford, Connecticut. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer and Collin Binkley in Boston; Michael Balsamo in Washington; Jim Mustian in New York; and Michael Kunzelman in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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This story has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to Henriquez previously working for PIMCO, and to correct that CitaraManis is Ernst’s lawyer, not Ferguson’s.

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