Bribery For College Entry, Ex-Florida Prep School Admin Sentenced To 4 Years In Prison

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On a hectic Friday in Boston federal court, a former Florida prep school administrator was sentenced to federal prison, and a distinguished water polo coach at the University of Southern California was quickly convicted by a jury in the long-running college admissions bribery case.

Mark Riddell, who was paid handsomely to take affluent youngsters’ college admission examinations, was sentenced to four months in jail, two years of supervised release, and a forfeiture of approximately $240,000.

Meanwhile, former USC coach Jovan Vavic was convicted on all three counts of fraud and bribery he faced after a jury deliberated for less than a day following his almost month long trial.

The result in Vavic’s trial, according to U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins, “represents the last conviction in the headline-grabbing case called “Operation Varsity Blues.”

The investigation, which was announced in 2019, exposed bribery in the college admissions process at Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, and other prestigious schools, and named wealthy and well-connected parents such as actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, as well as Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.

“To say the conduct in this case was reprehensible is an understatement,” Rollins said afterward, acknowledging the sprawling investigation preceded her taking office earlier this year. “The rich, powerful and famous — dripping with privilege and entitlement — used their money and clout to steal college admissions spots from more qualified and deserving students.”

The FBI’s Boston office chief, Joseph Bonavolonta, said he hoped the probe taught “many important lessons” and that institutions ensured sufficient measures were in place.

“First and foremost, you can’t pay to play and lie and cheat to circumvent the college admissions process,” he said. “Because you will get caught.”

Vavic, 60, who led USC’s men’s and women’s water polo teams to 16 national titles, walked out of the courthouse with his family on Friday, declining to comment on the judgment.

Prosecutors claim he was paid $250,000 to designate unqualified youngsters as water polo recruits so they could join the top Los Angeles institution.

Vavic’s lawyers, on the other hand, maintained that he was only trying his best to raise funds for his powerful, championship-winning program, as athletic officials had required. They said he never lied, never received a bribe, and was a victim of USC’s effort to hide a “pervasive culture” of enrolling affluent students who might bring in large donations.

Vavic was removed by the university after his detention in 2019, and the university has said that its admissions processes are “not on trial.”

Riddell seemed apologetic as he faced sentence on fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges in a different courtroom only minutes after Vavic’s judgment was read.

The Harvard graduate, who became a central role in the scandal, expressed regret for the numerous students who missed out on college prospects as a result of his “terrible decision.”

He apologized for bringing embarrassment to his family and asked for forgiveness in exchange for working with authorities and pledging to make atonement now and in the future for his conduct.

Riddell’s attorneys argue that he should be sentenced to one to two months in jail since he was neither the scheme’s kingpin or a university insider like the coaches and officials involved. They also pointed out that he’s already paid approximately $166,000 toward the forfeiture.

Judge Nathaniel Gorton, on the other hand, agreed with the prosecutors’ request for a four-month sentence.

He said Riddell was a significant figure in the program for many years, surreptitiously administering the ACT and SAT to kids or editing their answers. “And for what?” the judge said. “You did not need the money. How could you have stooped so low?”