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Judge: Rick Singer’s notes raise ‘disturbing’ questions about the case against his college admissions clients

College Prep Chief William “Rick” Singer Charged In College Admissions Fraud Scheme
William “Rick” Singer leaves federal court in Boston.
(Scott Eisen / Getty Images)

Since they were made public two months ago, a series of iPhone notes written by William “Rick” Singer, the man at the center of the college admissions scandal, have roiled the cases he helped build against dozens of his former clients.

The defense has seized on the notes, in which Singer wrote he’d been instructed to “tell a fib” and “retrieve responses that are not accurate” when calling his clients on a recorded line, as grounds for throwing out the indictment. The prosecution has dismissed Singer’s statements as inaccurate and, in any respect, irrelevant to his clients’ conduct, which they characterize as fraudulent, corrupt and plainly criminal.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton weighed in. Though he did not rule on the defense’s request to dismiss the indictment or, at a minimum, suppress the recorded phone calls, he wrote that he found Singer’s statements “serious and disturbing.”

“While government agents are permitted to coach cooperating witnesses during the course of an investigation,” he said in an order, “they are not permitted to suborn the commission of a crime.”

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Gorton described the following exchange between Singer and his handlers as “troubling”: An agent, Singer wrote in a note, had “raised her voice to me” and insisted he get his clients to acknowledge “a lie that I was telling them” — that their payments were not donations to the schools, but bribes to corrupt employees.

A prosecutor, Stephen Frank, wrote in court papers last week that government authorities did not investigate the account presented in Singer’s notes because they knew it to be untrue, written by a recently-turned cooperator who had yet to take responsibility for his crimes.

Gorton appeared unsatisfied with this explanation. He told prosecutors to address in writing the heated exchange Singer described in his note and the “allegations of investigatorial misconduct” he raised.

Singer has pleaded guilty to four felonies and has yet to be sentenced. Thirty-six of Singer’s clients have been charged with conspiring with him and about a dozen college employees and test administrators to defraud elite colleges with rigged exams, falsified applications and tens of millions of dollars in bribes.

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Twenty-two of Singer’s clients have pleaded guilty to various fraud and money laundering charges. With one exception — Peter Sartorio, a Menlo Park frozen foods entrepreneur who was given probation — they have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two weeks for Felicity Huffman, the television actress, to nine months for Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of Pimco, the bond management company based in Newport Beach.

For the 14 parents who have pleaded not guilty, Gorton has grouped their cases into two trials. The first, scheduled to begin Oct. 5, includes actress Lori Loughlin; her husband, fashion designer J. Mossimo Giannulli; casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz; USC professor Homayoun Zadeh; Miami financier Robert Zangrillo; and Diane and Todd Blake, a Bay Area couple.

The second trial, slated for Jan. 11, includes Elisabeth Kimmel, a La Jolla media executive; William McGlashan Jr., a private equity chief; I-Hsin Chen, a Southern California shipping industry executive; Marci Palatella, a Northern California liquor distribution executive; Gregory Colburn, a Palo Alto oncologist, and his wife, Amy.


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