In the past two years since authorities (and the public) learned about a decade-long college admissions bribery scheme, we’ve watched high-profile participants like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman plead guilty, receive sentences, and serve time for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering. But one conspirator has stayed notably under the radar: William “Rick” Singer, the mastermind behind the scandal investigated in Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues.
Singer — portrayed in the documentary by Stranger Things' Matthew Modine, reenacting his wiretapped conversations with clients — made $25 million helping wealthy and powerful parents get their kids into elite colleges. In May 2019, Singer pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering, racketeering, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice, and admitted to working with over 750 families. In order to get students into schools like Yale University and the University of Southern California, Singer paid proctors to alter his clients’ SAT scores, hired exam preparation experts to take the tests on his clients’ behalf, and worked with several coaches to falsely identify clients as recruited athletes. To cover his tracks, he laundered money through a “nonprofit” called the Key Worldwide Foundation.
Eleven coaches and directors were charged with accepting bribes of up to $1.3 million to submit candidates’ names as sports recruits. Over 20 parents have been sentenced for their involvement in the operation. Singer, however, hasn’t yet been sentenced. It’s unclear when he’ll go to prison, but his lawyer told USA Today that it will likely be sometime this year or next. He currently faces a maximum sentence of 65 years, with three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $1.25 million.
Today, Singer mostly avoids the public eye, although he’s been spotted around Newport Beach, CA a couple times. Ironically, as he awaits sentencing, Singer has decided to focus on his own educational pursuits. According to his lawyer, Donald Heller, he enrolled in Arizona’s Grand Canyon University in November 2019, in an attempt “to change his life for the future.” During his time as a student, he was granted permission to travel between his home in California and Arizona, where he took psychology courses. Bob Romantic, a spokesperson for the school, told USA Today that Singer was no longer a GCU student as of July 2020.
Since his company was exposed as a front, Singer has cooperated with authorities, helping the FBI elicit incriminating statements from his current and former clients via wiretapped calls. He explained to prosecutors that he pitched his services as an entry through a “side door.” A student enters through the front door, he said, by doing the work on their own. They can try to enter through the back door by making a donation, but they still aren’t guaranteed acceptance. “I created a side door that guaranteed families to get in,” Singer said, according to the New York Times. “So that was what made it very attractive to so many families, is I created a guarantee.”