Admissions scandal: Mom who rigged son’s ACT, lied about his race gets 3 weeks in prison
A federal judge handed down a three-week prison sentence for Marjorie Klapper, a white Menlo Park mother whose son applied to college with a fraudulent ACT score and an application that falsely portrayed him as African American, Latino and the first in his family to attend college.
To ensure her son got a top score on his ACT exam, Klapper admitted, she paid $15,000 to William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach college admissions consultant who has admitted fixing dozens of ACT and SAT tests for the children of his wealthy clientele.
Klapper, who co-owns a small jewelry business, is the ninth parent to be sentenced in the case. She pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit fraud.
The judge also sentenced Klapper to 250 hours of community service, and she must pay a $9,500 fine. Following her prison term, she will spend one year on supervised release.
In a rare statement after Klapper was sentenced, Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said Klapper’s conduct — particularly her choice to misrepresent her son as a racial minority and first-generation college student — merited more than three weeks in prison.
Klapper “not only corrupted the standardized testing system, but also specifically victimized the real minority applicants already fighting for admission to elite schools,” Lelling said. “We respectfully disagree that a three-week sentence is a sufficient sanction for this misconduct.”
Klapper’s son took his ACT in October 2017 at a West Hollywood private school where Singer had bribed an administrator to permit an accomplice, Mark Riddell, to correct the boy’s answers once he had finished.
Pleased with her son’s fraudulent score in the 94th percentile, Klapper and Singer embarked on another scam, Justin O’Connell, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston, wrote in a sentencing memorandum. She misrepresented her son on his college applications as African American, Latino and the child of parents who never went to college, according to O’Connell.
Klapper briefly hesitated to describe her son as a first-generation college student, not because she believed it was wrong, O’Connell said, but because she wanted to be sure the advantage he would gain by pretending to be the first in his family to attend college would carry more weight than his legacy status at his father’s alma mater.
O’Connell asked U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani to sentence Klapper to four months in prison.
Klapper’s attorneys said it was Singer and his assistant, not Klapper, who filled out her son’s online college applications that falsely presented him as a racial minority and a first-generation college student.
Through her attorneys, Klapper had asked Talwani to spare her prison and impose a sentence of four months of home confinement, a $20,000 fine and community service. Klapper has already been punished, her attorneys wrote in a sentencing memorandum, having been “required to endure the shock and humiliation” of being arrested by armed law enforcement agents at 5 a.m. on March 12.
Klapper and her family “were awoken by screaming agents banging on their front door shouting her name,” her attorneys wrote. “While her children watched in horror amid the chaos, she was handcuffed in her pajamas as agents shouted commands and questions at her.” She has since endured “harassment” from the news media and a scornful public — a “massive, international public shaming,” as her attorneys put it.
The attorneys sought to distinguish Klapper from her co-defendants, saying she makes just “a modest income” from her jewelry business and her finances are “nothing like those of the celebrities and business magnates who were also charged.”
Klapper’s son also suffers from seizures and has a learning disability, her attorneys said. Having seen him struggle, Klapper chose to doctor his exams because she “wanted him to feel like a ‘regular’ student,” they said. Her motives were “maternal,” her sentencing memo says, even if their execution was “misguided and illegal.”
In asking Talwani to spare Klapper prison, her attorneys said she will already suffer “significant, mandatory and permanent collateral consequences” from being a felon. She cannot, for example, perform jury duty, they said. Nor can she run for public office, work as a manager for a financial institution or volunteer at a child-care facility, they added.
Of the eight parents sentenced in the case so far, all but one — Peter Jan Sartorio, also of Menlo Park — have received prison terms, ranging from 14 days for actress Felicity Huffman to five months for Napa vintner Agustin Huneeus Jr.
A ninth parent, Robert Flaxman, will be sentenced Friday. Prosecutors want the Beverly Hills real estate developer to spend eight months in prison, but his attorneys have requested two years of supervised release, community service and a fine.
Sartorio, a Menlo Park packaged foods entrepreneur, was spared prison last week, and ordered instead to serve 250 hours of community service, pay a $9,500 fine and spend a year on probation.
Sartorio, like Klapper, paid Singer $15,000 to fix his child’s ACT. But in court papers, O’Connell, the federal prosecutor, stressed that Klapper set herself apart from her co-defendants by also exploiting programs intended to help minorities and applicants who would be the first in their families to go to college.
Misrepresenting her son as African American, Latino and the child of two high school graduates “increased the likelihood that her fraud would come at the expense of an actual minority candidate,” O’Connell said.
“She knew what she was doing was wrong,” he added, “but hesitated only once — and that was to make sure that lying about her husband’s education level would give her son a better shot than applying as a legacy.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.