Former Florida prep school administrator sentenced to prison
A University of Southern California water polo coach has also been found guilty in the long-running college admissions bribery scandal.
BOSTON — A former Florida prep school administrator was sentenced to federal prison and a decorated University of Southern California water polo coach was swiftly convicted by a jury on a Friday charged in federal court with Boston in connection with the college admissions bribery scandal.
Mark Riddell, who was paid handsomely to take college entrance exams for wealthy students, was sentenced to four months in prison, ordered to serve two years of probation and lose almost 240 000 dollars.
Meanwhile, former USC coach Jovan Vavic, who falsified the athletic credentials of wealthy students so they could gain admission, was found guilty of the three counts of fraud and corruption to which he was faced after a jury deliberated less than a day after his nearly month-long trial.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said the verdict in Vavic’s trial represents the final sentencing in the headline-grabbing case dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”
The investigation announced in 2019 exposed corruption in the college admissions process at Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and other wanted schools, and implicated wealthy and connected parents, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.
“To say the conduct in this case was reprehensible is an understatement,” Rollins said afterwards, acknowledging that the sprawling investigation predated his taking office earlier this year. “The rich, powerful and famous – dripping with privilege and rights – have used their money and influence to steal college admissions places from more qualified and deserving students.”
Joseph Bonavolonta, FBI Boston bureau chief, said he hopes “many important lessons” will be learned from the investigation and that colleges will ensure the proper safeguards are in place.
“First and foremost, you can’t pay to gamble, lie and cheat to circumvent the college admissions process,” he said. “Because you’re going to get caught.”
Vavic, a 60-year-old man who guided USC’s men’s and women’s water polo teams to 16 national championships, walked out of the courtroom on Friday with his family, declining to comment on the verdict.
Prosecutors said he received around $250,000 in bribes for singling out unqualified students as water polo recruits so they could attend the elite school in Los Angeles.
But Vavic’s lawyers argued he was just doing what he could to raise money for his dominating, championship-winning program as demanded by sporting officials. They argued he never lied, never took bribes, and fell victim to USC’s desire to cover up a ‘pervasive culture’ of accepting wealthy students who could provide donations exceptional.
The university, which fired Vavic after his 2019 arrest, stressed that its admissions processes were “not on trial”.
In a separate courtroom minutes after Vavic’s verdict was read, Riddell was contrite as he faced a conviction for fraud and money laundering.
The Harvard graduate, who became a key figure in the high-profile scandal, has apologized to the many students who lost college opportunities because of his “terrible decision”.
He said he had shamed his family and pleaded for leniency for cooperating with law enforcement officials and for pledging to make amends now and move forward for his shares.
Lawyers for Riddell said he should serve one to two months in prison because he was neither the mastermind of the scheme nor a college insider, like the coaches and college administrators involved. They also noted that he had already paid nearly $166,000 for the forfeiture bond.
Judge Nathaniel Gorton, however, sided with prosecutors who argued for the four-month sentence.
He said Riddell had played a key role for many years in the program by secretly taking the ACT and SAT for students, or correcting their answers.
“And why?” said the judge. “You didn’t need the money. How could you fall so low?