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Bay Area liquor company CEO sentenced to six weeks in prison in college admissions case

A statue of Tommy Trojan in a plaza on a quiet USC campus
Marci Palatella, a Northern California liquor distribution executive, admitted to paying a self-billed college admissions consultant to get her son into USC as a football recruit, even though he wasn’t being recruited.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The chief executive of a Northern California liquor distribution company was sentenced Thursday in Boston federal court to six weeks in prison for paying a fixer to get her son admitted to USC as a football recruit, authorities said.

Marci Palatella, a 66-year-old Hillsborough resident, was also ordered to pay a $250,000 fine; spend two years on supervised release, with the first six months under house arrest; and complete 500 hours of community service, according to U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton’s ruling.

Palatella pleaded guilty Aug. 26 to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud, court records show.

Two wealthy parents have been convicted of buying their kids’ way into school as athletic recruits in the first case to go to trial in the college admissions cheating scandal.

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She is one of dozens of defendants charged in the sweeping case, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” that uncovered a college admissions fraud scheme aimed at getting the children of the rich and powerful into prestigious universities.

Wealthy parents paid a firm to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and create fake athletic records in order to get them admitted into schools including USC, UCLA, Stanford, Yale and Georgetown.

Palatella paid William “Rick” Singer, a self-billed admissions consultant who orchestrated the scheme, $75,000 to bribe West Hollywood school administrator Igor Dvorskiy into allowing corrupt test proctor Mark Riddell to secretly correct her son’s SAT exam answers, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Massachusetts.

When it came to getting their daughters into college, actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer J.

She also agreed to pay $500,000 to get her son admitted to USC as a football recruit even though he wasn’t being recruited and would never play on USC’s football team, prosecutors said.

“Ms. Palatella fully acknowledges that what she did was wrong,” her attorneys said in a sentencing memorandum filed Dec. 9. “She is profoundly and deeply remorseful for her actions, her involvement with Rick Singer, and this case.”

In the document, her attorneys said Palatella was hardworking and dedicated to her family and community.

Shortly after federal authorities took down a national college admissions scam in March, officials at USC launched their own investigation with emails to dozens of students.

“The number of acts of generosity and the list of recipients she has helped is long,” the attorneys said.

The attorneys argued the judge should impose the sentence she ultimately received, saying it was in line with what previously sentenced defendants in the case had received.

Singer previously pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.


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