Wealthy Silicon Valley Parents Among 50 Indicted in Sweeping College-Admissions Scandal

Authorities call the largest college-admissions fraud ever.

A newly unsealed federal indictment shows how a probe dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” entangled a Stanford University coach and several wealthy Silicon Valley families.

The 200-plus pages of charging documents offer a glimpse into a world of money and influence, where affluent parents shell out tens of millions of dollars in bribes to buy placements at top colleges for their underachieving children.

In a news conference Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts called it the biggest such scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice, which implicated a vast network of Hollywood celebrities, high-profile entrepreneurs and investors, doctors and executives and even professional athletes.

The complaint levels fraud charges against six Peninsula residents: Hercules Capital CEO Manuel Henriquez and wife Elizabeth Henriquez of Atherton, Amy and Gregory Colburn of Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents Marjorie Klapper and Peter Jan.

Bill McGlashan, founder of TPG Growth and a leading voice in Silicon Valley about how to invest ethically, has also been charged with engineering his son’s admission into the University of Southern California. Private equity firm TPG placed McGlashan on leave hours after word got out about his involvement in the scandal.

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, whose children attend some of the universities mentioned in the case, were also indicted.

Stanford University’s lead sailing coach John Vandemoer, one of 50 people named in the federal investigation, has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of racketeering for his role in the scheme. In a statement issued Tuesday, Stanford confirmed that it has fired Vandemoer, who spent more than a decade of his career at the university.

“Stanford has been cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation and is deeply concerned by the allegations in this case,” school officials stated. “The university and its athletics programs have the highest expectations of integrity and ethical conduct. The head coach of the Stanford sailing team has been terminated.”

Though Vandemoer stands accused of taking bribes in exchange for recommendations of two prospective students ($110,000 for one kid and $500,000 for his replacement), the school claims that neither stayed long at Stanford.

“However, the alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford’s values,” the statement noted. “Based on the Department of Justice investigation to date, we have no evidence that the alleged conduct involves anyone else at Stanford or is associated with any other team. However, we will be undertaking an internal review to confirm that.”

In detailed narratives interspersed with email excerpts and phone transcripts, the feds paint college counselor William Singer as the ringleader of the pay-to-play enterprise.

Singer, a Long Beach resident, ran a company called the Edge College and Career Network LLC (known as The Key) through which he facilitated fraudulent college admissions for about 800 families from 2011 to 2018, authorities say. Those involved reportedly called it getting in through the side door,” as opposed to “front door” by merit or “back door” by institutional advancement.

Authorities say clients laundered payments to Singer as donations to a nonprofit that claimed to help underserved kids. In return, he allegedly carried out his racket by, among other tactics, falsifying scores and fabricating athletic records out of whole cloth to make sure his clients’ progeny weaseled their way into prestigious universities.

Singer, who purported to be a sort of life coach, allegedly had several ways of getting clients’ kids ahead of the pack. Investigators say he would get parents to finagle a phony learning disability diagnosis to get their children extra time to take the SAT or ACT.

In other instances, he allegedly bribed proctors to alter test results. Another tack involved creating fake sports profiles so students could get into college as athletic recruits in lower-profile sports, as the New York Times noted in its report on the indictment.

In McGlashan’s case, authorities allege, he authorized Singer to Photoshop his son’s face on the body of a football player to trick Stanford and the University of Southern California that his son had experience in a sport he never played.

“He does have really strong legs,” McGlashan told Singer, according to charging records. “Maybe he’ll become a kicker. You never know.”

The Henriquezes reportedly tried to get their daughter into Georgetown University by passing her off as some kind of top-ranking tennis champ when reality proved otherwise. A particularly cutting footnote states: “At her best, she appears to have ranked 207th in Northern California in the under-12 girls division, with an overall win/loss record of 2-8.”

Menlo Park jeweler Marjorie Klapper allegedly hired someone for $15,000 to help her son cheat his way to college while Menlo Park businessman Peter Jan coughed up the same amount to make sure a special proctor presided over his daughter’s test. Palo Alto oncologist Greg Colburn and wife Amy took a similar route, according to prosecutors, paying a stand-in $25,000 to take their son’s college entrance exam for him.

Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the probe remains underway, which means the public will be treated to even more of these character studies on what he characterized as the corrupting force “of wealth and privilege.”

“This case is about the widening corruption of elite-college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud,” the prosecutor told reporters at Tuesday’s widely televised presser. “There can be no separate college-admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add there will not be a separate criminal-justice system either.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

14 Comments

  1. I can only hope, the moral outrage concerning the atrociously low sentence afforded to Paul Manafort for his crimes will be rectified by lengthy jail time and crushingly large fines for these; wealthy, crooked, low-down-thieving defendants.
    Looks to me, a large number of “Bad-men” will have a new crop of “Girl-friends.” (And vice-versa).
    David S. Wall

    • Wealthy people doing wealthy people things! Bet they talk a good game, but you never know just based on their words!

  2. Anyone surprised? WELCOME TO THE SILICONE VALLEY! It is not a typo…fake non talented people with hunger for money and power. I hope they make the names of these families and individuals public. Is any of our arrogant public officials part of that? The rehabilitation for those with hunger of honor and recognition to a degree that they ignore basic principles of decency is PUBLIC SHAME!

  3. I’m recommending to the FBI that they take Stanford Faculty members Michele Dauber and Christine Blasey Ford into custody as a precaution in case they’re involved in what Alan Dershowitz has deemed “RICO violations”.

    Dauber and Blasey Ford look to me like obvious flight risks.

  4. > “However, the alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford’s values,” the statement noted. “Based on the Department of Justice investigation to date, we have no evidence that the alleged conduct involves anyone else at Stanford …. However, we will be undertaking an internal review to confirm that.”

    A recent Stanford graduate and her privileged, affluent white parents:

    http://images.politico.com/global/2013/01/09/130109_chelsea_bill_clinton8_reuters_605_605.jpg

  5. Reprehensible and disgusting. I promise you if you go through the past of these people including their own academic records you’re going to find quite a bit of dirt cheating lying thieving and stealing.

  6. We need to unpack this some more.

    What is the crime here?

    A PRIVATE school should have the right in a free society and make its own rules for admission.

    They can make rules that admit only white people, or only black people, or only men, or only women, or only children of alumni, or only big donors. “PRIVATE” means, it’s THEIR money and THEIR rules and THEIR business.

    It is no crime for a parent to go to great lengths to gain admission for his or her child to a private school.

    Tax funded PUBLIC schools are completely different and require “equal protection” in the awarding and employment of public money. Fraud and acts outside of the established rules amount to fraud against the government.

    The rules for Stanford and USC (PRIVATE schools) should be different than rules for UCLA and Cal Berkeley (PUBLIC schools).

    The problem arises from the perversion of private school freedom and independence by the attachment of strings to government benefits, like student loans.

    And if the government is going to attach strings and meddle in the affairs of private schools, how can the government allow private schools to have religious affiliations (Notre Dame), gender discrimination (Mills College), or employment discrimination (tenure). Oh YES! TENURE IS EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION.Tenure is likely ALSO age discrimination, not to mention political and religious discrimination.

    “Admissions” is not the only scandal afflicting our colleges and universities. Political subversion of academic independence is a much larger scandal.

  7. Just about every college and university, public or private, has an “admissions process”.

    The “admissions process” is sanctioned discrimination.

    Virtue signallers have been signalling for years their horror at ANY FORM OF DISCRIMINATION.

    News bulletin: Harvard has been discriminating; Yale has been discriminating; Stanford has been discriminating. Cal Berkeley, UCLA, and San Jose State University have been discriminating.

    I demand some show trials.

  8. What do they expect, when unqualified high school graduates (and I use that term loosely) preempt highly qualified Asians and Caucasians due specifically to racial quotas?

    Everything that made America a truly exceptional country is being turned on its head. Equality of results supersedes equal opportunity, guaranteeing mediocrity.

    Is anyone surprised that China is eating our lunch? The blame must be laid at the feet of the liberalism that infests our society. When we want to, Americans can out compete anyone. But TPTB don’t want that. They prefer us to be mediocre — and then they shed crocodile tears when people game the system.

    These schools have morphed into the new Skull & Bones society, where a wink and a nod (“You went to Berkeley? You get the job/promotion!”) gets someone in the door and up the ladder, disregarding academic excellence.

    Harvard used to be tough. They all were tough schools. But now Harvard and the rest grade not on A through F (with enough F grades to put a scare into their students), in favor of Pass/Fail — and almost no one ever fails, certainly no minority students that attends the classes; a warm seat is sufficient for them to pass the course.

    If these schools want to resurrect their reputations, they can do nothing less than using an anonymous system for test taking (along with the student’s fingerprints on the exam sheet to verify the test-taker’s identity).

    May the best qualified students get accepted — and let the chips fly.

    Anything less is institutional racism, and that is the #1 reason for America’s swift and ongoing decline.

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