Eight parents charged in college admissions scandal to plead guilty this week

Gregory Abbott, founder and chairman of International Dispensing Corp., leaves after appearing in federal court in New York on bribery charges in March. He will plead guilty on Wednesday.
(Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press)

Eight parents accused of hiring a college admissions consultant to rig their children’s entrance exams and slip them into prestigious universities as fake athletic recruits are scheduled to plead guilty this week in federal court in Boston.

Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which is leading the investigation into a long-running fraud perpetrated by Newport Beach college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, will this week wrap up all but one of the 20 guilty pleas they have secured from among the 50 people charged so far in the probe.

All eight parents scheduled to appear in Boston’s federal court this week will plead guilty to the same charge, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Gordon Caplan, the former co-chairman of an international law firm, and Agustin Huneeus Jr., a Napa Valley vintner, will plead guilty Tuesday. Peter Jan Sartorio, a frozen foods entrepreneur from Menlo Park, Calif., and Gregory and Marcia Abbott, who split their time between New York City and Aspen, Colo., will plead guilty Wednesday.


Thursday will see three appearances: Jane Buckingham, a Los Angeles marketing executive with a reputation as a teen trend “guru”; Robert Flaxman, a Beverly Hills resident and chief executive of a real estate company; and Marjorie Klapper, who co-owns a jewelry business in Northern California.

Another parent, Toby MacFarlane of Del Mar, will plead guilty June 21, the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office said.

Five parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, pleaded guilty earlier this month to the same fraud conspiracy charge. Huffman will be sentenced Sept. 13. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence at the low end of guidelines that call for four to 10 months in prison, along with a $20,000 fine.

Huffman’s attorneys said in her plea agreement they reserved the right to argue that her sentence should be calculated at a slightly lower range. If they make that argument and are successful, Huffman could face a sentence of no time at all to six months in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines.


The remaining defendants in the case — 19 parents and 11 others with whom Singer allegedly conspired — have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors recently turned over hundreds of gigabytes of evidence that defense attorneys are now poring over. A status conference is scheduled for June 3.

Unlike in most complicated white collar investigations, in which the government uses cooperating underlings to incriminate their superiors, the scheme’s ringleader helped Massachusetts U.S. Atty. Andrew Lelling’s prosecutors apprehend alleged lower-level offenders in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.

Singer called dozens of his former clients at the direction of FBI agents, who listened on court-approved wiretaps as Singer recounted with the parents bribes allegedly paid, tests allegedly rigged and payments allegedly laundered as tax-deductible gifts to Singer’s charity.

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