Former Solana Beach surfing executive gets two months in prison in college admissions scandal
Jeffrey Bizzack watched in March as 33 parents were arrested and charged with crimes he knew he had committed. Bizzack, a Solana Beach entrepreneur and well-known name in the surfing world, quit his job. He resigned from his board posts.
He hired lawyers and, through them, told the government he wanted to come in and admit what he had done — pay a now-infamous college admissions fixer $250,000 to guarantee his son’s admission to USC through fraud and bribery.
Bizzack received his final punishment Wednesday, when U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock sentenced the 59-year-old to two months in prison. He must also pay a $250,000 fine, remain on supervised release for three years after leaving prison, and perform 300 hours of community service.
Like 11 parents who have pleaded guilty and were sentenced before him, Bizzack admitted conspiring with William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach consultant who fixed SAT and ACT tests for his clients’ children and passed them off as top recruits for sports they didn’t actually play.
In Bizzack’s case, Singer misrepresented his son to USC as a volleyball standout. Accompanying his recruiting profile was a picture not of Bizzack’s son — the boy didn’t play the sport competitively — but of a real volleyball player.
Prosecutors say Singer engineered dozens of such ruses that allowed him to slip his clients’ children into USC, UCLA, Georgetown and other elite schools.
But Bizzack’s case is unique: He was not among the 33 parents arrested in the March 12 takedown of Singer’s scam. Overcome with shame, Bizzack’s lawyers said in a sentencing memorandum, he contacted federal prosecutors in Boston soon after, offering to turn himself in and provide whatever information he could. At a meeting with prosecutors and agents in May, Bizzack “engaged in a truthful, complete and candid discussion of his actions,” his memo says.
It is unclear from court papers whether Bizzack was aware at that point he had been under investigation for months. At the direction of the FBI, Singer had called Bizzack in October 2018 and tried to elicit from him incriminating statements.
Bizzack also met with investigators from USC, his lawyers wrote, adding that they believed he was the only parent charged in the scandal to do so. For several hours, he spoke “openly and honestly about everything he knew about the scheme and his participation in it,” and turned over documents that the school investigators had requested, his sentencing memo says.
While Singer peddled illegal access to at least a half-dozen universities across the country, no school was infiltrated by more of his clients’ children for more years than USC, according to the government. In an indictment unsealed last week, prosecutors alleged that Singer began bribing employees of the school in 2007. Nineteen parents of former or current USC students have been charged in the scandal, along with three coaches and a senior administrator.
Bizzack — a former executive for the World Surf League, the clothing company Outerknown and the Kelly Slater Wave Co. — met Singer in April 2017, after being introduced by a mutual friend, according to a report prepared by a probation officer.
Just a few months later, prosecutors wrote in a memorandum, the two had agreed to tap what Singer called his “side door” at USC — a scheme that required bribing coaches or school officials to usher in his clients’ children as phony athletic recruits.
Singer tasked a former USC coach with creating a bogus recruiting profile for Bizzack’s son, which depicted the boy as a “nationally ranked volleyball player, high school team captain and starting setter, and the recipient of a number of league awards,” Kristen Kearney, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Because Bizzack’s son didn’t play volleyball competitively, his profile featured a picture of someone else playing the sport.
Singer passed the profile to Donna Heinel, then a high-ranking administrator in USC’s athletics department, Kearney said. Before putting Bizzack’s son up for consideration with an admissions committee, Heinel made one tweak to the boy’s profile — she deleted “a logo from the photograph indicating the name of the athlete actually pictured,” Kearney said.
Heinel has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering. She was indicted last week on new charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and bribery. USC fired her the day of her arrest in March.
Once Bizzack’s son was conditionally accepted in November 2017 to USC as a volleyball recruit, Singer told Bizzack to write a $50,000 check to an account for USC’s Galen Center, which prosecutors described as “a restricted account that operated under Heinel’s oversight.”
Bizzack intercepted the conditional acceptance letter, and his son had no knowledge that he was presented as a fake volleyball player, his admission greased with a big payment, prosecutors and Bizzack’s lawyers say.
Four months later, the boy got a formal acceptance letter in the mail. Bizzack sent Singer a $100,000 check and a handwritten note that read: “Rick, a big thank you for all your help with [my son]! He is thrilled about USC and is still on cloud nine!”
Bizzack paid another $100,000 the following month to Singer’s foundation, which was little more than a sham used to funnel money from his clients to coaches, test proctors and others allegedly on his payroll, prosecutors say.
Singer called Bizzack six months later.
With federal agents recording the conversation, Singer repeated the lie he told time and again to his former clients — the Internal Revenue Service was auditing his foundation, and he wanted to be sure they gave the same story if they were asked about the payments made to aid their children’s entry to preferred universities.
Bizzack wanted to know whether anything was “going to come back” to him, Kearney wrote, quoting a transcript of the recorded call. In the “worst case scenario,” Bizzack said he might face a perjury charge, but in any event he would “just keep my head down,” according to the government’s memo.
Kearney asked Woodlock, the judge, to send Bizzack to prison for nine months. His crime not only corroded public trust in the fairness of the college admissions process and suborned employees of a university, Kearney said, but “caused concrete harm: the theft of an admissions spot, and the lifelong opportunities associated with it, from a more deserving student.”
Kearney said she and other prosecutors had erred in drafting earlier plea agreements for Bizzack’s co-defendants; they should have cited a guideline that applies to commercial bribery, Kearney said, which would have increased the defendants’ sentencing range in proportion to the bribe amounts they paid.
Bizzack’s attorneys cried foul, arguing that to rectify that mistake in their client’s case would create a disparity between Bizzack’s sentence and those sentenced before him — a result at odds with guidelines that discourage inconsistencies in punishing defendants who have committed similar crimes.
Given Bizzack’s “extraordinary acceptance of responsibility,” his lawyers said he should be spared prison and punished instead with probation, a $75,000 fine and community service.
Bizzack “has made no effort to defend, justify or minimize his conduct,” they wrote, and his sentence “should recognize his extraordinary actions in coming forward as an example for the as-yet-uncharged parents in this case.”
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.