The college admissions scandal that ensnared Hollywood actresses, CEOs and others this week has also embroiled at least one local resident: a Los Altos Hills parent who allegedly paid bribes to facilitate his son's acceptance at the University of Texas at Austin.
Federal investigators have not unmasked the parent or the student, but the two are featured in the complaint against Michael Center, 54, the head coach of the men’s tennis team at UT. Center was arrested Tuesday (March 12) on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
“That parent’s name has not been made public,” wrote Elizabeth McCarthy, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Massachusetts, in an email to the Town Crier sent Wednesday afternoon. “We cannot comment on charging decisions.”
According to the complaint, “CW-1 (Cooperating Witness No. 1) has told investigators that in or about 2015, Center agreed to accept approximately $100,000 from CW-1 as a bribe, in exchange for which Center would designate a student (“Applicant 1”) as a recruit to the U-Texas tennis team, thereby facilitating his admission to U-Texas. Applicant 1, a resident of Los Altos Hills, California, did not play competitive tennis.”
“Cooperating Witness No. 1” is William “Rick” Singer, 58, the founder of The Edge College & Career Network LLC (also known as “The Key”), a for-profit college counseling and preparation business, and The Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), a nonprofit corporation, the complaint alleges. Both organizations are located in Newport Beach.
Singer “admitted to law enforcement agents that between the years of approximately 2011 through 2018, clients paid him approximately $25 million – mainly funneled through the KWF charitable accounts – to bribe coaches and university administrators at elite universities nationwide,” the complaint states. “In exchange for the bribes, the coaches and administrators agreed to designate the children of these clients as recruited athletes, or some other preferred category, thereby facilitating the children's admission to the universities.”
Although the student from Los Altos Hills was not a competitive tennis player, his college application for UT indicated he played one year of the sport as a high school freshman and that he served as a manager of his high school basketball and football teams, according to the complaint. The document does not mention the name of the student’s high school, but Center described it as a “very high-end school” in an email to Martin Fox, 62, president of a private tennis academy in Houston who allegedly brokered the bribe. Fox, said to have made $100,000 in the deal, faces conspiracy to commit racketeering charges.
The complaint alleges the student’s father made three successive stock donations to KWF valued at $631,564 total.
In December 2014, Center emailed the student’s application materials to an athletics department administrator at UT so the student would be coded as a student-athlete, according to the complaint. In April 2015, the college awarded the student a “books” scholarship in line with what it pays for athletes’ books, and the student and his father returned a letter of intent to play tennis. The student was subsequently added to the tennis team roster as a recruited athlete. Shortly after starting classes in September of that year, however, he voluntarily withdrew from the team and gave up his scholarship, meaning he would no longer he classified as a student-athlete.
In an October 2018 phone call between Center and Singer – recorded by law enforcement agents – Center confirmed he was paid more than $90,000 for recruiting the student from Los Altos Hills, according to the complaint.
Center, who has been placed on administrative leave, declared his innocence through his attorney but quipped to reporters as he left the U.S. Courthouse in Austin after a preliminary hearing Tuesday.
“At this point, I don’t have anything to say,” Center said, according to reporter Robert Trevino of The Daily Texan, UT’s student newspaper. “We’ll wait and see what happens. Maybe you guys can go cover the team – they’re a lot more fun to watch than I am.”
Singer agreed to plead guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice to secure leniency in the case, according to the complaint. He did so Tuesday.
The high-profile personalities charged in connection to the scandal include actress Felicity Huffman of the television show “Desperate Housewives,” actress Lori Loughlin of the “Full House” TV series and Loughlin’s husband, Mossimo Giannulli, the fashion designer behind the Mossimo clothing brand. All three have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for allegedly paying bribes to get their children into college. The affidavit against them and 30 other defendants states Huffman paid $15,000 to KWF so Singer would arrange for her daughter’s SAT score answers to be corrected at a “controlled” testing center. It alleges Loughlin and Giannulli paid bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for their two daughters’ recruitment to the USC crew team despite the fact that neither participated in crew.
This article will be updated as additional information becomes available.