Updated at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 4

A federal judge in Boston on Wednesday sentenced the so-called “architect“ of the Varsity Blues college admissions scheme to three and a half years in prison and ordered him to repay the IRS more than $10 million in forfeitures.

In court, William “Rick” Singer apologized for his actions and calmly made his case for leniency to the judge, citing his cooperation with the nationwide investigation. The defense had asked for six months in prison or under home confinement, arguing such punishment was sufficient because back in March 2019 Singer pled guilty to racketeering and other charges after he cooperated with investigators, agreeing to be wiretapped and to make consensually recorded phone calls beginning in September 2018.

“I’m ashamed of myself,” Singer said, adding that he had lost his “moral compass.”

His sentencing marks the end of the federal case that charged dozens of wealthy parents with doctoring their children’s applications to make them look like ace test-takers or top athletes.


Despite the private admissions consultant’s cooperation in the investigation, prosecutors recommended Singer still serve a six-year prison sentence, in part, because he “covertly warned several of his co-conspirators about the investigation.” They say Singer had “in-person meetings that he did not disclose to agents" and used "a phone of which agents were not aware.”

“Singer obstructed justice with respect to at least six families who either participated in the scheme or were planning to do so,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memo filed last week.

Through a bogus charity he created called The Key Worldwide Foundation, Singer funneled millions of dollars to college athletic coaches and administrators to help kids of wealthy parents get admitted to selective colleges like Yale, Stanford and the University of Southern California.

Singer also paid test proctors to fix some of the students’ answers on the SAT and ACT and he even directed employees of his bogus charity to send clients acknowledgement letters falsely confirming that no goods or services had been exchanged for the purported donations that would help “provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth.”

In their sentencing memo, prosecutors said this method allowed “his co-conspirators to earn tax deductions on bribe payments” and for Singer “to evade taxes by failing to report the payments as income, resulting in his failure to pay taxes totaling approximately $10 million on his criminal proceeds.”

For his services, a recent auditors report found, Singer paid himself more than $28 million.

Even before the individual cases against more than 50 other defendants had been resolved, Singer’s actions permeated America’s pop culture, inspiring Netflix documentaries, made-for-TV Lifetime movies and ripped-from-the-headlines true crime dramas.

Varsity Blues scandal timeline

  • 2011: Rick Singer begins to bribe college exam administrators and coaches.
  • September 2018: Singer agrees to assist investigators.
  • March 2019: At least 50 people are charged in the college admissions scandal. Singer pleaded guilty to several charges in federal court.
  • September 2019: Actress Felicity Huffman, the first parent sentenced in the scandal, gets 14 days in prison.
  • May 2020: Actress Lori Loughlin pleads guilty to a conspiracy charge and agrees to serve two months in prison.
  • February 2022: Former Staples Inc. executive John Wilson, a resident of Lynnfield, Massachusetts, convicted of trying to bribe his three children’s way into elite universities sentenced to serve 15 months in prison.
  • April 2022: Mark Riddell, the test-taker involved in the scheme, is sentenced to four months in prison.
  • July 2022: Ex-Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst sentenced to 2.5 years in prison, the longest sentence so far handed down in the sprawling college admissions bribery scandal.


Ahead of the sentencing, legal experts suggested Judge Rya Zobel would weigh both Singer's involvement in the scheme and his cooperation in the investigation.

"[The case] feels very idiosyncratic, mainly in the scope," said Northeastern University law professor and GBH News contributor Daniel Medwed.

Since Singer is the most culpable, Medwed said, he deserves the most severe sanction. But, on the other hand, his cooperation, even if reluctant, helped with 53 other convictions.

"Singer played a pivotal role in virtually all of them," Medwed said. "He provided ample credible and significant information that resulted in dozens of convictions that might not have occurred without his help."

Former federal judge Nancy Gertner, who teaches at Harvard Law School, agreed. She said the judge would likely consider what other defendants in the case have gotten.

Prior to Singer, the longest sentence in the case was handed to the former Georgetown tennis coach. In July, Gordon Ernst was sentenced to 2.5 years.

“Singer got less time than it takes to complete the degree he helped so many rich and powerful families steal,” Anthony Jack, a sociologist who researches inequities in education and teaches at Harvard Graduate School of Education, said Wednesday after the sentencing.

While the case caused colleges and universities across the country to implement training and enact reforms aimed at preventing abuses in the admissions process, prosecutors admitted in their memo that “there is ultimately no surefire way safeguard against criminal ingenuity.”

“Loopholes — and those willing to exploit them for money — will remain,” they wrote. “Singer’s sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who might consider picking up where he left off.”

Dr. Angel B. Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said the case has been a moment of reckoning for admissions in this country.

When the scandal became public in 2019, Pérez was working as vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

“We did our own investigation between the admission office, the athletics department as well as the development office, just to make sure that there wasn’t anything that we could not stand behind in terms of our process.” Pérez said. “Colleges and universities realized that they had to regain the public trust.”

Still, he said, in colleges' defense, the “Rick Singers of the world” are rare.

“There are millions of applications processed every single year in American higher education,” Perez said. “While this case certainly is alarming, and I think it was a moment of pause for the college admission counseling profession, it was an outlier.”

This story was updated to include Singer's sentence.