A total of 50 people have now been charged with various crimes stemming from the FBI’s extensive investigation into college admissions fraud. The alleged mastermind of the scheme is William Rick Singer, the Edge College & Career Network founder who’s accused of facilitating millions in bribes on behalf of a few dozen rich people. But according to the feds, the person who allegedly took the actual fraudulent standardized tests in place of the fake applicants is Singer’s right-hand man, 36-year-old Mark Riddell.
Riddell was charged Tuesday with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, and he has supposedly been cooperating with the FBI for over a month. He works as the director of college entrance exam preparation at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, a sports-focused prep school that has trained hundreds of athletes who have turned pro. The school announced Tuesday night that Riddell had been “suspended indefinitely” pending an investigation.
Federal prosecutors say Riddell bribed SAT and ACT proctors to allow him to either take the tests himself, or swap out the high schooler’s submitted answer sheet with one of his own. Sometimes, he would allegedly correct the students’ answers by leveraging fake learning disabilities:
Riddell was caught last summer, when a parent arranged to pay Singer $50,000 through one of his charitable foundations in exchange for Riddell getting the parent’s son a good ACT score. The initial plan was to have Riddell correct the son’s answers while he took the test at a Houston-area public school. But the son got sick, so Riddell flew to Houston and took it himself. Riddell allegedly learned to imitate the son’s handwriting, and he achieved exactly the score he predicted.
Parents allegedly paid $15,000 to $75,000, and Riddell earned $10,000 for his work. Prosecutors stressed that Riddell didn’t even have to cheat on the actual tests. “He didn’t have inside information about the answers, he was just smart enough to get a near perfect score on demand or to calibrate the score,” U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said at a press conference Tuesday. Via ABC News:
“Singer would discuss with their clients what kind of score they were looking for. If your daughter took the S.A.T. on her own the first time and got a particular score, retaking the exam, if her score goes up too much, that would invite scrutiny. So Singer would discuss with parents what kind of score was impressive, but not too impressive, and then would instruct Riddell to attempt to get that score. And he was just good enough to do it,” Lelling said.
IMG has scrubbed Riddell’s bio from its website, but he’s been working in his position since 2006. He grew up in nearby Sarasota and graduated from IMG in 2000. Riddell went to Harvard and made the all-Ivy League team three times. He had a very brief, very unsuccessful professional career on the ATP Tour before returning to work at IMG; he lost all 10 of the pro matches he played between 2003 and 2005 and earned a grand total of $892. The Washington Post unearthed this extra cool picture of him playing tennis.
Riddell released an apology through his lawyer today:
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.
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.