University of Southern California water polo coach Jovan Vavic and senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel have both been charged with mail fraud as part of what federal officials are saying was a massive scheme to cheat college admissions standards.
The news broke today, with the Justice Department saying it had arrested “dozens of individuals involved in a nationwide conspiracy that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams.” The Justice Department website includes a long list of names charged in the scandal. You can see the full list here. Vavic and Heinel are both included under “Charged by Indictment.”
Other schools named in the indictment: Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, the University of San Diego, USC, Texas, Wake Forest and Yale.
The scandal centers around a man named William Rick Singer, who founded a for-profit college counseling service called “The Edge College & Career Network,” alongside a non-profit called the “Key Worldwide Foundation.”
The indictment alleges that Singer worked with parents to have someone take the ACT or SAT exams for their kids. The indictment names Mark Riddell as the primary test-taker and says he would either take the exam for the kids or change their answers. Singer would also allegedly bribe schools to designate students as recruited athletes (thereby lowering the academic admission standards) even when the students were not recruited athletes. The indictment says he would use the Key Worldwide Foundation to conceal the bribe money.
U.S. officials says that the parents using Singer to cheat the system were wealthy and famous.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts said in NPR’s coverage of the scandal. “They include, for example, CEOs of private and public companies, successful securities and real estate investors, two well-known actresses, a famous fashion designer, and the co-chairman of a global law firm.”
The indictment says that the parents paid Singer between $15,000 and $75,000 per test. Singer would advise the parents to get their kids extra time to take the test, sometimes by having the kids feign learning disabilities. Some of the money paid would be used as bribe money to test administrators who would allow someone else to secretly take the test in place of the student.
In the more sport-specific angle, the indictment says Singer would bribe coaches and school officials to designate students as recruited athletes. Other indicted individuals would help fabricate “athletic profiles” that falsely billed the students as successful high school athletes in their admissions materials.
Water Polo Specific
The indictment specifically lays out how officials say this process played out with USC’s water polo program. Singer paid $250,000 to a bank account that funded Vavic’s water polo team, the indictment says. In return, Vavic designated two students as water polo recruits. The indictment also says that Singer paid for Vavic’s children to attend private school, disguising the payments as a scholarship.
Heinel is also named. The indictment says she received payments of $20,000 a month and in return helped more than two dozen students get admitted to USC as athletes even though their credentials were fake and some of the students didn’t even play the sports they were billed as being recruited for.