US

Man Who Was Paid Thousands to Take Tests for Teens in College Bribery Scheme Speaks Out

By Zachary Stieber

A man who federal authorities said was paid up to $10,000 to take SAT and ACT tests for the children of actresses, CEOs, lawyers, and others to help them get into elite colleges issued his first statement since the March 12 indictments were announced.

Officials charged 50 people in the nationwide college bribery scheme, including orchestrator William “Rick” Singer, actress Lori Loughlin, and businesswoman Jane Buckingham.

Singer would send money to two test administrators, one in Los Angeles and one in Houston, to let Mark Riddell, 36, an administrator at IMG Academy in Florida, secretly take college entrance exams or to replace answers filled out by the children after they’d completed the tests, prosecutors said.

Parents sent money to Singer through his nonprofit The Key Worldwide Foundation, which he funneled to Riddell and other associates to boost children’s test scores to help them get into better colleges. Singer also sent money to athletic coaches and administrators to falsify information on applications, prosecutors said.

William "Rick" Singer, front, founder of the Edge College & Career Network
William “Rick” Singer, front, founder of the Edge College & Career Network, exits federal court in Boston on March 12, 2019. (Steven Senne/AP)

In the first statement since being charged, sent to news outlets by the released by Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, Riddell said he takes “full responsibility” for what he did.

“I want to communicate to everyone that I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions. I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process,” he said.

“I assume full responsibility for what I have done. I do, however, want to clarify an assertion that has arisen in the media coverage. I absolutely, unequivocally never bribed anyone, nor has the information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged me with any form of bribery. I will always regret the choices I made, but I also believe that the more than one thousand students I legitimately counseled, inspired, and helped reach their goals in my career will paint a more complete picture of the person I truly am.”

Riddell was suspended indefinitely by his employer after the charges were announced. Singer pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a slew of charges.

Riddell would usually get $10,000 for each test he completed, typically from one of the foundation’s charitable accounts, according to the indictment (pdf).

“He did not have inside information about the correct answers,” Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said during a Tuesday news conference announcing the charges.

“He was just smart enough to get a near-perfect score on demand, or to calibrate the score,” Lelling added, calling Riddell a “really smart guy.”

Singer would receive $15,000 to $75,000 per test completed by Riddell.

From 2011 through February 2019, Riddell was Singer’s main man in the test-taking arena, prosecutors wrote. “The principal purposes and objects of the conspiracy included the following: to cheat on college entrance exams on behalf of the children of Singer’s clients; and to enrich Riddell, Singer, and their co-conspirators,” they said.

Riddell was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was ordered to forfeit $447,147.

Lelling said that some of the students knew what was going on while others did not.

There were instances “where it’s important to parents that their child not know that this had occurred, in that kind of instance, the student would actually go and take the exam and someone working for Singer [Riddell] would come in afterward, correct enough of the answers, submit the exam,” he said. “In some instances, however, the child did know.”

He added, “There was a pretty wide range of how parents tried to play this and Singer, I think, accommodated what the parents wanted to do.”