Why Rick Singer, the Con-Artist In Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues, Is Still Not In Prison

Culture
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It’s been two years since news of the college admissions scandal broke, sending high-profile celebrities, financiers, and Ivy League athletic coaches to prison. There’ve been podcasts, books, and even a Lifetime scripted telepic based on the twisty tale. Now there’s also a docudrama: Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal delves into the seedy underworld of college recruiting and the stomach-churning lengths wealthy parents are willing to go to—and the hundreds of thousands of dollars they are willing to pay—in order to get their children illegally admitted to elite colleges.

Netflix’s documentary focuses on a man named Rick Singer, who has been dubbed the “mastermind” of the phony enterprise. Here’s everything you need to know about Singer’s illegal recruiting operation—and why he’s still not in prison.

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Who is Rick Singer?

Singer was reportedly born in Santa Monica, California, in 1960. He grew up playing sports, and later pursued athletics at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He joined both the basketball and baseball teams, and had an “ultra-competitive streak [that] made him a lightning rod on campus,” according to USA Today.

In the 1980s, Singer channeled that energy into a coaching career at Sierra College, a junior college near Sacramento, California. It was at Sierra that Singer reportedly first got into the business of college recruiting. Jeff Caraska, a columnist for the Auburn [California] Journal who interviewed Singer in 1988, told USA Today that Singer, “was selling the idea to parents that ‘I can get your kid’s name out there and increase their chances of getting a Division I or Division II scholarship.’

“No one was doing that back then, at least [not] around here,” Caraska told USA Today. “And parents were pretty excited about it.”

Singer eventually quit coaching and pursued college counseling full-time.

rick singer exiting a courthouse wearing a blue patagonia jacket

Rick Singer.

Scott Eisen

Bribery, cheating, and phony photos: How Singer’s college admissions scam operated.

In 2007, Singer launched his company, “The Key.” Although The Key does appear to have performed some legitimate college counseling services, it eventually morphed into a widespread “racketeering enterprise,” according to prosecutors.

Here’s how it worked: Singer told wealthy parents he could get their children into elite colleges through what he called a “side door.” In most cases, that meant by cheating.

rick singer exiting a courthouse

Rick Singer.

Boston Globe

Starting in 2011, Singer started accepting payments of up to $75,000 to help teenagers cheat on standardized exams like the ACT and SAT by bribing test proctors in Los Angeles and Houston, according to an indictment. He also connected his clients with a psychologist who diagnosed students with learning disabilities in order to get them more time on tests.

According to prosecutors, Singer bribed coaches at schools like Yale, Stanford, UCLA, and USC, who accepted money in exchange for reserving spots on their team for his client’s children—students who had no plans to actually play the sport.

In 2012, Singer established the Key Worldwide Foundation, which billed itself as a charitable organization helping under-served youths. Federal authorities believe it was actually a front to launder bribes. The non-profit’s tax-exempt status helped Singer’s clients list their “donations” as tax deductions.

A former admissions counselor at an elite university told ELLE.com she “wasn’t even a little bit shocked,” by the scandal, because “this has been going on forever.” More from the admissions counselor here.

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Singer self-published two books—and pitched his college consulting business as a reality TV show.

One of the biggest takeaways in Netflix’s docudrama is how untouchable Singer believed himself to be. As seen in the film, he actually submitted an audition tape pitching his business as a reality television concept. You can watch his audition tape in full on TMZ here. “This is a game,” Singer says in the clip. “My job is to life-coach kids and families through the whole process of getting into college. It’s unbelievable. It’s so competitive to get your kid into school today.”

Singer also self-published two books, Getting In: Gaining Admission to Your College of Choice and Getting In Personal Brands: A Personal Brand Is Essential to Gaining Admission to the College of Your Choice. Both offered advice on how to get into prestigious colleges.

How did Singer get caught?

The tip that led authorities to investigate Singer came from Los Angeles financier Morrie Tobin, who was reportedly being investigated as part of a separate fraud case. Tobin told investigators that Rudy Meredith, Yale’s women’s soccer coach, had accepted a bribe from Singer in exchange for getting his daughter into the school, according to CNN. A yearlong investigation followed that ultimately culminated in 50 arrests—from coaches to parents to Ivy League athletic directors. (Meredith ended up pleading guilty to conspiracy and honest services wire fraud relating to the scandal.)

What was “Operation Varsity Blues”?

In September 2018, Singer began cooperating with federal investigators, who instructed him to record his phone calls with clients. Singer would falsely tell parents the IRS was auditing his foundation and that they should not mention the bribes to college coaches. According to CNN, Singer made 34 phone calls under the direction of law enforcement. CNN also reported that Singer made “many others without their direction.” More than 50 people were eventually charged in the scam. Many pleaded guilty, but not all.

lori loughlin arriving at court

Lori Loughlin arriving at court.

JOSEPH PREZIOSO

Lori Loughlin was sentenced to two months in prison.

The Full House actress and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, were accused of paying $500,000 in order to get their daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose Giannulli, accepted to the University of Southern California as rowing team recruits. Loughlin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud as part of a plea agreement, while Giannulli pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and one count of honest services wire and mail fraud. During a Zoom hearing, Loughlin received a two month sentence in prison, according to the Associated Press. Her husband received a five month sentence in prison.

Olivia Jade gave her first in-depth interview about the college admission scandal on Red Table Talk during her mom’s time away, revealing that she hadn’t spoken to either of her parents since they went to prison. “It’s been hard,” she said. “I think for anybody, no matter what the situation is, you don’t want to see your parents go to prison. But also I think it’s necessary for us to move on and move forward.”

Loughlin was released two days early in December. Here’s everything you need to know about her time in prison—from a former inmate who served time at the same facility.

felicity huffman walking on a street outside the courthouse in a black suit

Felicity Huffman arrives for a court appearance.

Boston Globe

Felicity Huffman spent two weeks in prison.

Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman was charged with paying $15,000 to inflate her daughter’s SAT score. The correctional institute where Huffman completed her 14-day prison has been called “club fed” for its cushy amenities. As one Twitter user put it, “she’s on vacation from life right now.” For more on Huffman’s time in prison, read ELLE.com’s feature on Dublin Federal Correctional Institute, where inmates can take Zumba and yoga classes.

Where is Singer now?

Singer plead guilty in March 2019 to four felony charges, including money laundering conspiracy, racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and obstruction of justice. He hasn’t been sentenced yet because he is set to testify at other defendants’ trials, which could potentially influence how long his sentence will be. According to the Justice Department website, there is no sentencing hearing scheduled for Singer at this time.

As seen in the Netflix documentary, Singer has been spotted driving a luxury car in Sacramento. He swims twice a day at a local tennis club in a Speedo and does yoga and push-ups there. A source in the documentary claims he was overheard bragging that he will not be going to jail—despite pleading guilty.

In a video captured by C13Originals that appears on TMZ, Singer avoids questions from a cameraman, jumps into a Porsche with two paddle boards tied to the roof, and drives off.

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