Three California parents pleaded guilty Friday to fraud conspiracy and admitted their roles in a test-fixing and bribery scheme, wrapping up an early string of guilty pleas for federal prosecutors in their investigation into college admissions cheating.
Jane Buckingham, 50, a Los Angeles marketing executive and self-styled “trend forecaster,” admitted paying Newport Beach college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer $35,000 toward the agreed-upon price of $50,000 to rig her son’s ACT score.
Marjorie Klapper, 50, a Menlo Park resident and jeweler, acknowledged paying Singer $15,000 to inflate her son’s score on the exam.
Robert Flaxman, 62, a developer who lives in Laguna Beach, admitted paying $75,000 to doctor his daughter’s ACT score.
Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts recommend that Buckingham and Flaxman be sentenced at the low end of an eight-to-14-month range, according to their plea agreements and federal sentencing guidelines. They recommend Klapper be sentenced at the low end of a four-to-10-month range.
Prosecutors also recommend that Buckingham and Flaxman be fined $40,000, and Klapper $20,000.
Klapper will be sentenced Oct. 16. Flaxman will be sentenced Oct. 18, and Buckingham will be sentenced Oct. 23.
With the three pleading guilty, prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts have tied up all but one of the 14 guilty pleas they negotiated from 33 parents charged in March.
Toby MacFarlane, a title insurance executive from Del Mar, will plead guilty June 21.
The remaining 19 parents, who include such well-known names as actress Lori Loughlin and private equity chief Bill McGlashan, have pleaded not guilty. After negotiations with prosecutors foundered, they were indicted on charges of money laundering conspiracy in addition to the fraud conspiracy offense with which they were initially charged.
Parents who balked at a deal risked being charged with additional money laundering offenses; some faced the possibility that their children could be charged. Prosecutors have said some children of Singer’s clients were aware they were benefiting from an unlawful scheme, but others were not.
No children of Singer’s clients have been charged, although three have been informed that they are possible targets of the investigation, The Times previously reported.
Prosecutors recently handed defense attorneys hundreds of gigabytes of evidence collected during the course of their yearlong investigation: recorded phone calls, emails, banking and academic records, and surveillance footage, among other records.
In one recorded call, quoted in an affidavit supporting charges against Buckingham, the marketing guru discussed with Singer bribing an exam proctor in Houston to allow a 36-year-old Harvard graduate to take the ACT in her son’s stead.
Buckingham sent Singer a sample of her son’s handwriting for his test-taking accomplice, Mark Riddell, to mimic. Riddell scored a 35 out of 36 on her son’s ACT — a score in the 99th percentile nationally. Buckingham wired Singer $35,000, and said she could have her former spouse pay the balance.
Riddell and Singer have admitted to committing an array of fraud and money laundering offenses, and are awaiting sentencing.
The scheme, Buckingham told Singer on another recorded call, was “craziness, I know it is,” but she considered him a miracle worker. Now that he had fixed her son’s ACT, she told Singer, “I need you to get him into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.”
Three months later, Buckingham called Singer again. She wanted her daughter’s ACT score inflated as well — not so high as her son’s, she said, “but if she got a 32 or 33, I’m assuming that would make her pretty competitive.”