Two more parents are indicted in college admissions scandal
A couple arrested this month for paying bribes to get their son into an elite college were indicted in Boston, becoming the second and third parents to be accused by a federal grand jury in a wide-ranging admissions scandal.
Gregory and Amy Colburn conspired to launder money and commit wire fraud by paying college admissions counselor William Rick Singer, the plot’s ringleader, to have a proctor correct their son’s answers on the SAT college entrance exam, prosecutors said. One other parent, David Sidoo, was previously indicted for twice paying $100,000 for a surrogate to take tests for his two sons. He has pleaded not guilty.
The Colburns and Sidoo are among 33 parents charged in the scandal, which erupted March 12 when federal prosecutors in Boston announced the sweeping case. Singer pleaded guilty and has cooperated with prosecutors, secretly recording conversations with parents.
“The Colburns are innocent of these charges,” their attorneys, Patric Hooper and David Schumacher, said in a statement. Their son “took his SAT test with no assistance, and the Colburns were unaware that his test was altered in any way,” the lawyers said, adding that the parents “were arrested at their home in front of their children” and that “the government has cast its net too widely.”
The couple “will seek a speedy trial to clear their names,” according to the statement.
The move signals that prosecutors are taking a hard line with at least some of the parents by indicting them for felonies that carry significant prison time. So far, most of them have been charged only in a criminal complaint — essentially a statement of facts made by an FBI agent — and, legal experts said, may seek plea deals for misdemeanors that would keep them out of jail. An indictment is more serious, suggesting the government may not be as lenient in negotiations.
Other parents, like the Colburns, may risk a trial to prove they did nothing wrong.
Prosecutors say they recorded a phone call between Singer and the Colburns in which Singer said his charity was being audited and that they should tell the IRS their contributions were intended for needy children — and not bribes for a proctor. It was apparently a ruse by Singer, who was then cooperating with the government, so that the Colburns would implicate themselves.
“This payment was made to our foundation in lieu of, but we both know that, Mark took the test,” Singer said, in a reference to alleged accomplice Mark Riddell.
“Right. It was to help underserved kids ... Got it. No problem,” Colburn replied, according to prosecutors.
The U.S. says wealthy parents — including celebrities, a top mergers attorney and a venture-capital CEO — paid Singer to get their kids into schools including Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, Wake Forest and the University of Southern California. He used the funds they gave him, through a charity he had set up, to pay off test administrators and a surrogate test taker and to bribe college coaches to designate applicants as athletic recruits, according to the charges.
The parents paid a total of $25 million from 2011 to 2018, the government claims, for admission to a top university. Singer claimed he engineered almost 800 bribes.
While the bribes to coaches were typically in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, other payoffs were more modest. Prosecutors say the Colburns, of Palo Alto, California, paid $25,000 in cash and stock for Riddell to correct their son’s answers at a West Hollywood testing center. Riddell helped him score an 1190 out of 1600, which was submitted to Texas Christian University, Indiana University and the universities of Oregon and Arizona — schools not previously mentioned in the case.
Riddell took the SAT for Sidoo’s older son and got a 1460 out of 1600, which was sent to Chapman University. He earned a 2280 out of 2400 for Sidoo’s younger son, which went to Yale, Georgetown and the University of California at Berkeley, the U.S. said. In other instances, Riddell provided answers for students whose scores were sent to Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern University in Massachusetts, prosecutors said.
Riddell, who worked in test prep at a private Florida school, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and money laundering, according to a court filing.
More than a dozen parents are scheduled to appear in court on Friday. The Colburns were among them, but their indictment means a new date will be set.