Varsity Blues mastermind sentenced in college admissions bribery scheme

Before his conviction from bribing coaches at elite colleges to gain admission for rich applicants, Rick Singer advised Rio Americano students


Rick Singer boasted he could get students into top-ranked college through the side door–a system that depended on bribes and lies about students’ athletic ability.

Mirada Staff

Rick Singer, who started his career as a private college counselor by advising Rio Americano students and later became the center of a national admissions bribery scandal, was sentenced to 3½ years in prison earlier this month. In addition to prison time, Singer will have to pay over $19 million for his involvement. 

For years, Singer, 62, helped celebrities, business people and other rich parents leverage their wealth and privilege to buy their children’s entry to some of the country’s most prestigious universities through what he called the “side door.” He used the more than $25 million he received from parents to pay proctors to inflate admissions test scores and bribe coaches to list applicants as recruits to increase their chances of getting into the college. 

“It was a scheme that was breathtaking in its scale and its audacity. It has literally become the stuff of books and made-for-TV movies,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank told the judge at a Federal court room in Boston, Associated Press reports.

Others previously sentenced to prison in the scandal include “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman; “Full House” actor Lori Loughlin; and her husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Gianulli. But Singer’s sentence is the longest, topping that of former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernest, who got 2½ years for taking more than $3 million in bribes. 

Ironically, it was Singer’s cooperation with the investigation into the scandal that resulted in the conviction of many of his clients. According to NPR, he got his partners in crime to make incriminating statements during phone calls that he recorded secretly. The defense team cited his cooperation as justification for a shorter sentence. 

They also noted his contrition regarding the schemes. Singer told U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel that he has “woken up every day feeling shame, remorse, and regret” over his role in the scandal.

The prosecution, however, was unconvinced.

“This defendant was responsible for the most massive fraud ever perpetuated on the higher education system in the United States,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank stated in court. Frank said victims included legitimate prep athletes who at achieved at the highest level but were passed over for admission and millions of students who may have lost faith in the admissions process. 

In 2021 interviews with the Mirada, a school counselor and a local college counselor described Singer as unethical and someone who pushed the boundaries of acceptable help for his clients. But, apparently, he began his illegal activity after moving to Los Angeles, and no Rio families were involved in the scandal. 

Additional coverage of Rick Singer in the Mirada


Rick Singer and his accomplices await sentences. Oct. 12, 2021

Rick Singer, mastermind of the college admissions scandal, started at Rio. May 15, 2021

Review:Operation Varsity Blues’: The Disturbing Reality of College Admissions April 7, 2021

College Scandal. April 25, 2019