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Georgetown dad admits he paid USD 400,000 for son’s admission

The U.S. claims the parents paid a total of USD 25 million to bribe coaches and for ringleader William Singer’s test-taking surrogate to ace the SAT or ACT college-entrance exam for their children, funneling some payments through a charity he ran. Singer has pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government.

world Updated: May 09, 2019 08:49 IST
Bloomberg
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Georgetown University,Los Angeles,U.S college-admissions
Georgetown didn’t reply to an email or voicemail asking whether Semprevivo’s son had joined the team and whether he was still at Georgetown.(REUTERS PHOTO)

A Los Angeles executive became the third parent to plead guilty in the U.S college-admissions scandal, saying he paid a USD 400,000 bribe to get his son into Georgetown University with a falsified profile as a tennis recruit.

Stephen Semprevivo, who has served as chief strategy and growth officer at Cydcor LLC, told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in Boston on Tuesday that his son didn’t even play competitive tennis. Semprevivo is one of the 33 parents caught up in the biggest college admissions scam the Justice Department has ever prosecuted.

Talwani asked him whether he understood she had “the power to give you a term of imprisonment up to 20 years” on the single count of mail fraud conspiracy facing him, even though prosecutors said they’d recommend 18 months because he had accepted responsibility for his crime.

“Yes, your honor,” Semprevivo replied. “You understand you will not be able to withdraw your plea of guilty if your sentence is not what you expected?” she asked.

“Yes, your honor,” he said.

Cydcor, which offers outsourced sales services, didn’t reply to a call and an email asking whether Semprevivo was still with the company.

The U.S. claims the parents paid a total of USD 25 million to bribe coaches and for ringleader William Singer’s test-taking surrogate to ace the SAT or ACT college-entrance exam for their children, funneling some payments through a charity he ran. Singer has pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government, secretly recording conversations with clients -- including one in which Semprevivo appears to suspect he’s being set up.

Bruce and Davina Isackson, who are cooperating with the government in its continuing investigation of the racket, were the first parents to plead guilty, admitting they paid at least USD 600,000 to get their daughters into USC and UCLA.

In 2015, Singer had Semprevivo’s son write to Gordon Ernst, then the coach of Georgetown’s men’s tennis team, pretending to have played tennis competitively through all four years of high school, to be an Academic All American in both tennis and basketball, and to belong to the Nike Federation All Academic Athletic Team in tennis, prosecutors claim. They say Ernst, who has pleaded not guilty, was in on the plot.

Singer even dictated what Semprevivo’s son should say in his essay for Georgetown, prosecutors said.

“When I walk into a room, people will normally look up and make a comment about my height -- I’m 6’5 -- and ask me if I play basketball,” the applicant wrote, according to court documents. “With a smile, I nod my head, but also insist that the sport I put my most energy into is tennis.”

After he was admitted, his family’s trust sent a $400,000 check as a “private contribution” to Singer’s charity. Singer then made “numerous payments” to Ernst totaling $950,000, including payments for Semprevivo’s son and the children of other clients, according to the government’s criminal complaint against Semprevivo.

Semprevivo’s son, who enrolled at Georgetown in the fall of 2016, never joined the tennis team, according to the government.

Georgetown didn’t reply to an email or voicemail asking whether Semprevivo’s son had joined the team and whether he was still at Georgetown.

Semprevivo appears to be one of the parents Singer recorded whose conversations suggested they suspected he was being set up.

In a phone call in March, Singer fished for something more incriminating than he was able to get in a December call. Semprevivo hung up and then called back with remarks that might have offered him some cover. According to an FBI transcript, he said Singer had to be “accountable.’’

“I’m totally accountable that I got him in through tennis and that you guys were aware of it,” Singer replied. “That I used my relationship and made [Semprevivo’s son] a tennis player.’’

“You know, I don’t have any details,’’ Semprevivo said, according to the transcript, and went on to say “there were two separate things,’’ that he “donated as a charity” and “if you’re trying to turn something around in terms of, you know, what you did and how you did it, then I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be a part of that.’’

Coaches Charged

Ernst left Georgetown in 2017, joined the University of Rhode Island as its women’s tennis coach and left that post after he was charged in the case.

Former coaches at schools including the University of Southern California, Stanford University and Yale University have been charged in the scheme. None of the colleges themselves, or the applicants, have been charged.

A total of 50 people have been charged in the case, including parents, coaches, test center staff and others. Of the 33 parents charged, 14 have agreed to plead guilty. Three of them have entered their pleas.

First Published: May 08, 2019 10:08 IST