Donna Heinel, ex-USC administrator sentenced in Varsity Blues scandal, released from prison

Donna Heinel arrives at federal court in Boston.
Donna Heinel, a former USC athletics administrator, arrives at federal court in Boston in March 2019. Heinel has been released from prison.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)
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Donna Heinel, a former USC administrator who was sentenced to prison for her role in the “Operation Varsity Blues” admissions scandal, has been released from custody, federal prison records show.

Heinel, 61, was sentenced in January to six months in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud in November 2021 in connection with the scheme, although prosecutors had sought a two-year sentence.

She was released July 5.

Although not as high profile as other figures in the scandal, such as Lori Laughlin or Felicity Huffman, prosecutors had called Heinel “one of the most prolific and culpable participants.”


William ‘Rick’ Singer bribed coaches and rigged exams to slip the children of his star-studded clientele into the country’s best universities.

Jan. 4, 2023

The scheme, uncovered by the massive “Operation Varsity Blues” federal investigation, saw dozens of unqualified students admitted to prestigious institutions such as USC, UCLA, Yale and Georgetown through backroom dealings between often wealthy parents and school administrators.

According to defense memorandums submitted by Heinel’s attorneys, the former senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator witnessed her bosses use walk-on spots on sports teams as fundraising mechanisms — parents would pay for their child to take a walk-on position.

Prosecutors said Heinel moved beyond the practice of just offering the walk-on spots and began to build false athletic resumes, including fake action shots, for applicants.

The applicants were presented as “recruits to USC’s athletic teams when, in reality, the coaches had not recruited them and some did not even play the sport,” prosecutors said.

Heinel allegedly took approximately $160,000 from the scheme’s mastermind, private consultant William “Rick” Singer, who was sentenced in January to 3½ years in prison.

A federal appeals court Wednesday overturned the convictions of two wealthy businessmen in the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal.

May 10, 2023