Admissions scandal: Overriding coronavirus concerns, judge sentences Bay Area mom to 7 months in prison
Elizabeth Henriquez, a Bay Area mother who conspired to fix her daughters’ college test scores and buy a Georgetown tennis coach’s fraudulent endorsement, was sentenced Tuesday to seven months in prison.
Henriquez pleaded guilty last year alongside her husband, Manuel, to conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering with William “Rick” Singer, the Newport Beach consultant at the center of the college admissions scandal. On five occasions, the couple acknowledged, Singer’s accomplices fed their two daughters the answers to their SAT and ACT exams while pretending to proctor the tests. The couple also paid $400,000 for a Georgetown tennis coach to endorse their older daughter as a talented tennis player, which she was not.
In addition to the seven-month prison term, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton ordered Henriquez to pay a $200,000 fine. To protect the participants from the coronavirus, the sentencing hearing was conducted by video-conference.
Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston, who charged the Henriquezes and 51 others in Singer’s scheme, had asked Gorton to send Elizabeth Henriquez to prison for 26 months — the longest sentence they’d requested in the case to date. Aaron Katz, Henriquez’s lead attorney, had proposed a sentence of home confinement and probation. Katz cited the coronavirus pandemic as a factor weighing in favor of house arrest, rather than incarceration.
Eric Rosen, the lead prosecutor in the case, said Henriquez should be allowed to delay her surrender to serve her term, but her crimes nevertheless demanded “a meaningful sentence of imprisonment.”
Manuel Henriquez, the former chairman of a publicly traded venture capital company, will be sentenced next week; prosecutors have asked Gorton to put him behind bars for 18 months.
In court papers filed before sentencing, Katz portrayed Elizabeth Henriquez as a down-to-earth New England native who, as a close friend put it in a letter to the court, lived “in Silicon Valley but not of it.”
Henriquez feels most comfortable “wearing a Patriots hoodie, listening to Boston sports radio,” the friend wrote. Katz said his client “was always uncomfortable participating in the cocktail-party charity circuit so popular among the wives of the Silicon Valley elite.”
Henriquez sought Singer out in June 2014 not as a conspirator to a fraud and bribery scheme, Katz wrote, but as a legitimate tutor to her daughter. “We are very low key and not into high pressure on our kids,” she wrote in an introductory email to Singer.
Singer showed up to their Atherton home wearing Iron Man triathlon gear and, ever the salesman, won over Henriquez’s daughter with talk of tutoring the Silicon Valley’s upper crust and a “high-octane, energetic, ‘can do’ sales pitch,” Katz wrote.
He portrayed Henriquez as a victim of Singer, who, upon meeting this “lonely, insecure, over-protective, stay at home mother with access to money,” sensed blood in the water. Singer told her of a surefire way into Georgetown, Katz wrote: In exchange for a $400,000 donation to the school’s tennis program, the coach, Gordon Ernst, would give her daughter one of the admissions slots allocated to his team.
“A large, ostensibly legitimate donation to the Georgetown tennis program seemed to be a small price for [her daughter’s] happiness,” Katz wrote. The Henriquezes wired $400,000 to Singer’s foundation. While its stated mission was to help poor children pursue an education, Singer has admitted that the foundation did little more than pass money from his clients to university coaches they wanted to bribe, furnishing them a charitable deduction in the process.
The Henriquezes’ daughter was admitted to Georgetown. Her essay said she practiced tennis three to four hours a day, and her application described her as among the top 50 girls tennis players in the country, as ranked by the United States Tennis Association.
“At her best,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit supporting charges against her parents, “she appears to have ranked 207th in Northern California in the under-12 girls division, with an overall win/loss record of 2-8.”
Henriquez “knew that what she was doing was wrong,” her attorney wrote, that this “was not a true, let along legal, way of expressing her deep, unconditional, abiding parental love.”
Yet she and her husband engaged again in fraud. Telling Singer in an email she was “over the moon happy” with her daughter’s acceptance to Georgetown, Henriquez wrote in an email, “Now on to daughter number 2!”
Singer arranged for the girl to take her ACT exam at a public high school in Houston where, prosecutors allege, he bribed a test proctor to turn a blind eye to cheating. Mark Riddell, a Harvard-educated private school administrator, provided the Henriquezes’ daughter with the answers to her exam, and she scored 30 points out of 36 possible.
Instead of paying Singer the agreed-upon $75,000 fee for fixing the score, Manuel Henriquez used his clout as a prominent alumnus of Northeastern University to help ensure another of Singer’s students was admitted to the school, prosecutors said. The student’s family paid Singer $250,000.
In October 2018, Singer called Elizabeth Henriquez on a recorded line. Federal authorities had convinced him a month earlier to cooperate. He told Henriquez the IRS was auditing his foundation, and “they asked me about the large sums of money that came in from you guys.”
“So,” she asked at one point, “what’s your story?”
“So my story is, essentially, that you gave your money to our foundation to help underserved kids,” Singer said. The Henriquezes had deducted from their tax bill the $400,000 that secured their daughter’s admission to Georgetown.
“Of course,” she replied. “Those kids have to go to school.”
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