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In admissions scandal, L.A. parent who faked son’s water polo talents gets 4 months in prison

Devin Sloane, right, arrives at federal court in Boston for sentencing in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.
Devin Sloane, right, arrives at federal court in Boston for sentencing in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.
(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

Devin Sloane, a Los Angeles businessman whose son was admitted to USC as a bogus water polo star, was sentenced Tuesday to four months in prison.

Over the protests of his attorneys, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani chose to incarcerate Sloane, the second parent sentenced in the college admissions scandal, for misrepresenting his son as a member of Italy’s youth national water polo team, a charade Sloane achieved with gear purchased online, a graphic designer and $250,000. Sloane’s son didn’t play the sport.

Talwani also ordered Sloane to pay a $95,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service. The four-month sentence struck a middle ground between what prosecutors had requested and what Sloane’s attorneys said was fair.

Having shown a “breathtaking disregard for basic principles of good parenting and common decency,” prosecutors had said Sloane deserved to be imprisoned for a year and a day.

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Sloane’s lawyers had asked Talwani to spare him prison and instead punish him with three years of supervised release, a $75,000 fine and 2,000 hours of community service. They pointed to his history of supporting charitable causes as the proper indication of his character, describing Sloane, 53, as a well-intentioned father who, “trying to do all he could to help his oldest son through the college admission process,” crossed the line and committed a crime.

In a letter to the judge, Sloane said he broke the law not because he lacked faith in his son, but because he had come to believe that “the way the college admissions process worked today, no one had a chance. I unfortunately became convinced that the system was broken and unfair and that cutting a corner was somehow justifiable.”

“How stupid I was to believe this,” he wrote.

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Sloane pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit fraud, one of 15 parents who have acknowledged conspiring with William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach consultant and the confessed mastermind of a long-running admissions fraud exposed in March. Felicity Huffman, the first parent to be sentenced in the scandal, was given a 14-day sentence earlier this month. She must report to prison by Oct. 25.

Stephen Semprevivo, a Los Angeles business development executive, will be sentenced by Talwani on Thursday. Prosecutors requested a 13-month prison sentence for Semprevivo, whose son was admitted to Georgetown as a fraudulent tennis recruit. His attorneys have asked Talwani to spare him prison.

Nineteen more parents have pleaded not guilty, and another parent — Xiaoning Sui, a Chinese citizen who resided in Canada — was arrested last week in Spain. Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts are seeking extradition for Sui, who is accused of paying Singer $400,000 to have her son admitted to UCLA as a fake soccer player. Prosecutors on Tuesday upped the ante against Sui, filing new charges that include international money laundering and fraud.

In urging Talwani to send Sloane to prison, prosecutors described the elaborate scheme he used to transform his son into an international water polo star.

Sloane took pictures of the boy in the family pool in June 2017, sporting a Speedo swimsuit, cap and ball Sloane had purchased on Amazon. The cap was emblazoned with an Italian flag decal. Because his son’s high school, the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, had no water polo team, Sloane agreed with Singer to pass off the boy as a member of the Italian youth national team.

Sloane emailed the photos to a graphic designer to superimpose against the backdrop of a real water polo match. When the designer sent back the manipulated image, Sloane replied, according to the prosecution’s sentencing memo, “Wow! You nailed it!!!”

The designer, it turns out, had not. The photo showed the boy waist-deep in water. “No one gets that high,” Singer told Sloane, according to the memo.

Sloane wrote back the designer: “He’s out of the water too much to look authentic. Can you look at a host of photos of actual competition and you’ll see how the athletes are lower in the water.”

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The designer sent Sloane a photo showing his son submerged up to his armpits, which Sloane forwarded to Singer.

“Perfect,” Singer replied. He included the picture in a fraudulent recruiting profile for Sloane’s son, which was submitted to USC.

Sloane wired $200,000 to Singer’s sham foundation and wrote a $50,000 check to an account controlled by Donna Heinel, then an administrator in USC’s athletics department, prosecutors say. Heinel, USC’s third-ranking athletics official at the time of her March arrest, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.

The ruse teetered in April 2018, when a guidance counselor at the Buckley School questioned how Sloane’s son was admitted to USC as a water polo recruit when his high school had no team. Sloane fumed, telling Singer in an email, “The more I think about this, it is outrageous!” The counselor had “no right” to scrutinize his son’s application, Sloane added.

USC, too, was skeptical of the boy’s water polo bona fides. Prosecutors say Heinel stifled the school’s doubts, telling an admissions officer in an email that Sloane’s son “is small but he has a long torso but short strong legs plus he is fast which helps him win the draws to start play after goals are scored.”

The flap was smoothed over, and Sloane’s son enrolled at USC in the fall of 2018.

“College admissions is a zero-sum game,” prosecutors concluded in their sentencing memorandum. “Such harm is difficult to measure in dollars and cents, but it is real and lasting, and it demands real punishment.”

Sloane, for his part, told the judge in his letter that he had always “sought to nurture and shepherd” his son, and in this instance, he “failed miserably by doing too much, going too far, and crossing the line.” Sloane acknowledged that since his arrest, he has “become a symbol for wealthy entitlement, arrogance, privilege and unfairness.”

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“But I do want you to know that this is not who I was brought up to be,” he continued, “not how I have led my life, and it is not who I am.”

Sloane and his attorneys presented to the judge a life story of impoverished beginnings, overcome through hard work. Raised by a single mother, flitting from apartment to apartment and splitting McDonald’s hamburgers with his brother, Sloane set his mind to achieving “financial independence,” his lawyers wrote.

He started his own car-detailing service while in high school, worked 12-hour days in construction and, after matriculating at USC, worked overnight at a television station while taking a full course load, often sleeping in his car before class, his lawyers said. Sloane went on to invent and sell a toy called My Creation, open a number of carwashes and gas stations, and work for his father-in-law’s Italian oil and gas business before starting his current venture, a wastewater company called AquaTECTURE, according to his lawyers.

It came crashing down the morning of March 12, Sloane said in his letter, when 15 agents raided his home and handcuffed him in front of his family.

“That was unimaginably difficult, but the hardest moment came later,” he said. “When I returned home, my son was standing in the kitchen with tears rolling down his face.”

“Why didn’t you believe in me?” he asked his father. Sloane said he will “forever carry the scar of the memory of those tears on his face.”


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