College Admissions scandal coach sentenced

Michael Center, the former University of Texas at Austin tennis coach who accepted a $100,000 bribe to masquerade a Los Altos Hills student as an athletic recruit, has been sentenced to six months in prison and one year of supervised release. 

Michael Center

A federal court in Boston imposed the sentence Monday (Feb. 24), according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. Center, 55, must also forfeit $60,000. In April, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, charges that could have led to a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Center’s sentence differs from the prosecution’s recommendation only in that they had advised it also include a $20,000 fine.

Investigators have not charged or named Christopher Schaepe, the parent of the Los Altos Hills student, but Schaepe reportedly outed himself by disclosing his connection to the so-called “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal to his Menlo Park firm, Lightspeed Venture Partners, which subsequently fired him.

More than 30 wealthy parents – from Menlo Park to Greenwich, Conn., and including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin – have been charged in the scandal. They are accused of hiring William “Rick” Singer, owner of college counseling business The Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, to facilitate their children’s acceptance into various colleges between 2011 and 2018. The schemes he employed to do so ranged from bribing SAT and ACT administrators to correct students’ exams to bribing university coaches and administrators to mislabel students as athletic recruits, according to the charging document against Singer. He made approximately $25 million through the athletic bribes alone.

According to the Department of Justice, Singer in 2014 had Martin Fox, the former president of a private tennis academy in Texas, forward Schaepe’s son’s transcript and application materials to Center, who passed them along to a U-Texas athletics department administrator so Schaepe’s son would be designated as a recruit to the university’s tennis team despite the fact that the teen did not play competitive tennis. Singer paid Center $100,000 ($60,000 in cash and $40,000 to the U-Texas tennis program) and Fox another $100,000 for their parts.

“The son’s transcript and application materials were accurate, contained no fake athlete profiles, referenced no collegiate-level tennis skills and clearly articulated his desire to be a sports team manager, not a player, consistent with his career goals,” said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for Schaepe, in a statement emailed to the Town Crier Thursday.

Schaepe made stock donations worth a total of $631,564 to The Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), Singer’s nonprofit in 2015, according to the complaint against Center.

“Mr. Schaepe thought it was the right thing to do to tell his partners that he legitimately used and paid for Singer’s college counseling services and later made charitable donations to The Key Worldwide Foundation which he believed was a legitimate non-profit focused on children’s causes aligned with his family’s philanthropic priorities,” Davis said. “Mr. Schaepe was not aware of any unlawful payments, and he made multiple large donations to each of several non-profits in 2015 consistent with his typical annual pattern of gifting.”

In March, Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice in order to secure pretrial release and sentencing leniency; prosecutors have recommended he receive a sentence at the low end of the sentencing guidelines, serve three years of supervised release, pay a fine and forfeit ill-gotten monetary gains, but his hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Fox in November pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering, and his sentencing hearing is slated for May 14. Prosecutors have also recommended he receive a sentence at the low end of the guidelines as well as serve a year of supervised release and pay a fine and restitution.

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