By now you should be aware of the hilariously far-reaching college admissions bribery scandal unveiled after today’s FBI bust. If not, you’ve been missing out. College coaches and administrators were crucial to carrying out the scheme, falsely representing applicants as athletic recruits to boost their chances of admission. Here’s how it worked, as laid out in the court documents: parents would launder funds through a fraudulent non-profit called the Key Worldwide Foundation, or KWF, which then made payouts to coaches and administrators.
Between approximately 2011 and 2018, parents paid approximately $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators to designate their children as purported recruited athletes, or as members of other favored admissions categories, thereby facilitating the children’s admission to those universities. The recruitment scheme typically worked as follows:
a. CW-1 told parents, in sum and in substance, that he could facilitate their children’s admission to certain universities via what he termed the “side door.” He described the side door scheme as a quid pro quo, pursuant to which the parents would purport to make charitable donations to KWF. CW-1, in turn, would funnel those payments to particular athletic coaches, or to university programs designated by those coaches, using KWF to disguise the nature and source of the payments. CW-1 typically explained to parents that, in exchange for the payments, the coaches would designate their children as recruited athletes—regardless of their athletic abilities—thereby facilitating their admission to the universities.
Here are some of the coaches and athletic directors implicated in the scheme, along with a (non-exhaustive) look at their greatest hits.
Gordon Ernst, until 2018 the head coach of men’s and women’s tennis at Georgetown University, was allegedly bribed on several instances to falsely represent Georgetown applicants as tennis recruits.
He represented the daughter of Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez as a tennis recruit in the admissions process. Ernst was sent fraudulently obtained test scores and fraudulent tennis credentials; he then forwarded them to an admissions officer with the comment, “Potential spot.” The daughter, whose admissions essay falsely discussed “how quickly I connected with Coach Ernst,” was admitted to Georgetown in the fall of 2015. KWF then paid Ernst $950,000 between September 2015 and November 2016 for his work facilitating the admission of “the daughter and several other students as purported tennis recruits.”
Ernst was also paid $244,000 between September 2012 and September 2013 for his assistance in representing the daughter of Elisabeth Kimmel as a tennis recruit to Georgetown using a falsified profile. The daughter gained admission in late 2012.
Ernst also helped the daughter of Douglas Hodge gain admission to Georgetown as a tennis recruit, using a falsified profile that claimed she had won several United States Tennis Association events, despite never having played in a USTA match. The daughter gained admission in late 2008.
Ernst, a tennis coach to the Obamas, resigned on June 30, 2018 after 12 years at Georgetown. He is currently the tennis coach at University of Rhode Island, though he has been placed on administrative leave. Ernst has been federally charged with racketeering conspiracy.
Donna Heinel, who was Senior Associate Athletic Director at the University of Southern California until she was terminated today, was allegedly bribed to falsely represent a slew of students as athletic recruits to the athletics admissions subcommittee. Her payouts totaled over $1.3 million. Here’s a sampling:
Heinel was allegedly bribed to represent the son of William E. McGlashan as a recruited athlete. The son, who had fraudulent test scores, was fraudulently represented as a football punter, possibly using Photoshop to compile images of him competing, per Heinel’s suggestion.
Heinel was also allegedly bribed to represent the daughter of Gamel Abdelaziz as a recruited basketball player. The daughter was given falsified basketball credentials like “Asia Pacific Activities Conference All Star Team,” “2016 China Cup Champions,” and “Hong Kong Academy team MVP.” Heinel represented the daughter to the admissions committee using the fraudulent athlete profile and obtained permission to admit her as a basketball recruit. Heinel advised that Abdelaziz send $200,000 to the gift account for the Galen Center, the arena for USC’s basketball and volleyball programs. This would be redirected to Heinel. Abdelaziz wired a $300,000 payment to KWF, which the co-operating witness told him would be marked as a donation to help “underserved kids.” The daughter was admitted. Abdelaziz was instructed to corroborate Heinel’s story that his daughter suffered an injury, which explained why she wasn’t playing basketball at USC.
In or about July 2018, KWF began making payments of $20,000 per month to Heinel personally for her work with Abdelaziz’s daughter and other clients.
Heinel was also allegedly bribed to represent the daughters of designer Mossimo Giannulli and actress Lori Loughlin as crew recruits, despite the fact that they did not participate in crew. Giannulli sent the cooperating witness a photo of the older daughter using an ergometer and was instructed to send a $50,000 payment to Heinel personally. In fall 2016, the older daughter was represented to the athletic admissions subcommittee as a coxswain and received admission. Giannulli wired $200,000 to KWF.
Giannulli’s younger daughter went through a similar process and was approved for admission in fall 2017. Giannulli sent an image of her using an ergometer and was instructed to send a $50,000 payment to Heinel at USC. He also made another $200,000 payment to KWF.
Heinel was also allegedly bribed to represent the son of Devin Sloane as a water polo recruit. Sloane obtained water polo gear on Amazon and took a photo of his son, who did not play water polo competitively, which was then used, along with falsified honors, when Heinel presented the son to the athletic admissions subcommittee, securing his admission in late 2017. Sloane was directed to send a $50,000 payment to Heinel at USC and $200,000 to KWF.
Heinel was also allegedly bribed to represent the son of Marci Palatella as a football recruit at long snapper, using fraudulent test scores and fraudulent athletic honors. Palatella’s son was admitted to USC in late 2017.
Heinel has been indicted on a federal charge of racketeering conspiracy.
Vavic, the head coach for men and women’s water polo at USC until he was terminated today, has allegedly received payments totaling more than $250,000. He and Heinel were allegedly bribed to represent the daughter of Agustin Huneeus Jr. as a recruited water polo athlete, with fraudulent images of her competing, fraudulent athletic honors, and fraudulent test scores. Huneeus was instructed to send a $50,000 payment to USC and a $200,000 payment to KWF. The daughter was admitted in fall 2018.
Vavic was also allegedly bribed to represent the son of John B. Wilson as a water polo recruit. Vavic said he would present the son to athletics admissions subcommittee with his “top walkons.” Vavic emailed a USC athletics administrator that the son “would be the fastest player on our team, he swims 50 y in 20 [seconds], my fastest players are around 22 [seconds], this kid can fly,” basing his claims on a falsified athletic profile. The son was admitted to USC as a water polo recruit in early 2014. Wilson’s company wired $100,000 to KWF, as well as $100,000 to The Key, a for-profit run by the cooperating witness, and $20,000 to the cooperating witness directly.
Vavic has been indicted on a charge of racketeering conspiracy and was reportedly arrested in Hawaii on Tuesday.
Laura Janke, an assistant coach of women’s soccer at USC who left the school in 2014, helped compile several falsified athlete profiles and received six-figure payouts. The image below—purportedly representing the son of Elisabeth Kimmel competing in the pole vault—was used in one such profile.
Janke has been indicted on a charge of racketeering conspiracy.
Ali Khosroshahin, fired in 2013 after seven years as the head coach of women’s soccer at USC, and Jorge Salcedo, currently the head coach of men’s soccer at UCLA, were allegedly bribed to facilitate the admission of Bruce Isackson and Davina Isackson’s daughter as a soccer recruit at UCLA. Khoroshahin forwarded the daughter’s falsified soccer profile to Jorge Salcedo with a note that read in part, “soccer player/student manager. I have attached her profile, player explanation, transcripts for both high schools and ACT scores ... will make sure she has registered with the NCAA.” The daughter was approved for admission at UCLA in fall 2016. Her father Bruce transferred 2,150 shares of Facebook, then with an approximate value of $251,249, to KWF. KWF made a $100,000 payment to a sports marketing company controlled by Salcedo, the men’s soccer coach, and a $25,000 payment to Khosroshahin, the former women’s coach.
In other instances, Khoroshahin received payouts to a private soccer club he owned. He has been indicted on a charge of racketeering conspiracy. Salcedo has been placed on leave at UCLA and indicted on a charge of racketeering conspiracy.
Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer has been fired after his participation in a scheme that would have sent Stanford sailing $500,000 in return for a recruit spot for a daughter of John B. Wilson, who had previously used KWF to secure his son’s admission as a fraudulent water polo recruit at USC. Vandemoer has pleaded guilty to a charge of racketeering conspiracy.
In November 2018, Rudy Meredith stepped down after 24 years as head coach of women’s soccer at Yale. The indictment revealed he had been a cooperating witness, working with law enforcement since roughly April 2018. In one 2017 scheme, he designated a Yale applicant as a soccer recruit, knowing full well that the student did not play competitive soccer. The student was admitted, and in early 2018, KWF sent Meredith a check for $400,000 in return for his services. In a 2018 scheme, Meredith met with a parent in a Boston hotel room—which was being monitored by the FBI—and requested $450,000 in return for designating the man’s daughter as a soccer recruit. Meredith accepted a payment of $2,000 at the meeting and a later installment of $4,000. Meredith now faces charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Michael Center, the head coach of men’s tennis at UT-Austin since 2000, has been placed on administrative leave. Center allegedly accepted bribes summing to roughly $100,000 in return for designating an applicant as a tennis recruit on a “books” scholarship—meaning the university would cover the student-athlete’s books—even though the student had played only one year of high school tennis. The student was accepted to UT-Austin in 2015 and upon enrolling later that year, withdrew from the tennis team and renounced the scholarship. Center accepted funds in several installments, including one 2015 meeting in a hotel parking lot in which he received roughly $60,000 in cash. He was charged in a criminal complaint with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Update (March 13, 7:01 p.m. ET): Rudy Meredith, coach of women’s soccer at Yale, and Michael Center, coach of men’s tennis at UT-Austin, have been added.