US

First Parents Charged in College Admissions Scheme Plead Guilty, Will Likely Get Prison Time

By Zachary Stieber

The first parents charged in the nationwide college admissions scandal pleaded guilty on May 1.

Bruce and Davina Isackson of Hillsborough, California traveled to the federal courthouse in Boston to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Bruce Isackson also pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS.

The Isacksons and 12 other parents have agreed to enter guilty pleas, including “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman. The couple was the first to appear in court and officially enter the pleas.

Actress Felicity Huffman arrives holding hands with her brother Moore Huffman Jr., left, at federal court in Boston to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal on April 3, 2019. (Charles Krupa/AP Photo)

In Davina Isackson’s plea agreement, prosecutors recommended a prison sentence between 27 and 33 months, reported the Los Angeles Times. In Bruce Isackson’s plea agreement, prosecutors recommended a sentence of between 37 and 46 months in prison.

Of the 33 parents charged in the nationwide scheme, the Isacksons are the only ones who have signed cooperation deals with prosecutors and depending on the information they convey, they could get sentences even below federal guidelines. The agreement (pdf) calls for cooperation with the IRS and other officials.

The charges for Bruce Isackson called for incarceration of up to 45 years, a fine of up to $1 million, restitution, and forfeiture. However, in the plea deal, Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said that he would recommend incarceration on the low end of the federal guidelines and a fine of $150,000 in addition to one year of supervised release, possible restitution, and forfeiture of some assets.

The charges for Davina Isackson called for incarceration of up to 20 years, supervised release for three years, a fine of $250,000, restitution, and forfeiture. Lelling said in the agreement (pdf) that he was recommending incarceration on the low end of the federal guidelines and a fine of $100,000 in addition to one year of supervised release, possible restitution, and forfeiture of some assets.

Andrew Lelling
Andrew Lelling, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, speaks during a news conference in Boston, on March 12, 2019. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

The Department of Justice and FBI obtained numerous phone calls and emails in the case, many between parents and William “Rick” Singer, the head of a nonprofit dubbed The Key Worldwide and also known as The Edge College & Career Network.

Parents would pay Singer a “donation” in exchange for his services, which fell into two categories—helping them alter the SAT and ACT exams their high school children were taking or helping the children get into elite college through nefarious means, such as getting them designated as prized athletic recruits despite the kids not participating competitively in the sports.

According to prosecutors (pdf), the Isacksons agreed to pay Singer an amount that ultimately totaled $600,000.

In exchange, Singer falsified a soccer profile in September 2015 for the Isackson’s older daughter and sent it to his associate inside the University of Southern California, Laura Janke, who forwarded it to the school’s women’s soccer coach, Ali Khosroshahin. About six months later, the application was diverted out of the athletic admissions process due to what was described as a “clerical error.”

Jorge Salcedo, former UCLA soccer coach
Jorge Salcedo, former UCLA soccer coach, departs federal court in Boston on March 25, 2019, after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

In May 2016, Singer had Khosroshahin send the falsified profile, ACT score, and high school transcripts to Jorge Salcedo, the head men’s soccer coach at UCLA. About a month later, the Isackson’s older daughter was accepted for provisional admission.

Singer notified the family via email the following day. Davina Isackson responded, copying her husband and their daughter. “I know it has been a rough ride but I thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for your persistence, creativity, and commitment towards helping [our daughter],” she wrote.

Singer paid Salcedo $100,000 and Khosroshahin $25,000 for their help.

Bruce Isackson emailed Singer in July 2016 and said that he had given Singer’s foundation $250,000, which was in the form of 2,150 shares of Facebook stock, but that it should be refunded if their older daughter was not admitted to UCLA. Singer confirmed the amount in an email.

William "Rick" Singer founder of the Edge College & Career Network
William “Rick” Singer founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston after he pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal on March 12, 2019. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

In January 2017, the Isacksons contacted Singer to get involved with their younger daughter.

Singer arranged for an associate, Mark Riddell, to travel to Los Angeles to go to an ACT testing center and change answers that the Isackson’s younger daughter marked on the exam. The score ended up being 31 out of a possible 36.

Singer then falsely portrayed the younger daughter as a rowing recruit, “even though she was not competitive in rowing, but was instead an avid equestrian,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment. Singer had Lauke Janke create a crew profile for her and sent the girl’s high school transcript and fraudulently obtained ACT score to Donna Heinel, the USC senior associate athletic director, along with the fake profile, which included a number of falsified crew honors.

Heinel presented the girl to the USC subcommittee for athletic admissions on or about Nov. 30, 2017, and she was accepted about two weeks later. The Isacksons paid Singer another $350,000 in shares of stock. Singer passed some of the money on to Heinel and Riddell.