As Marcia and Gregory Abbott’s daughter prepared to take her SAT subject tests last August, she asked if the tall blond man who was “so sweet” when proctoring an earlier exam in West Hollywood would be there again.
“She said, ‘Can’t I take my SAT subjects with him?’ ” Marcia Abbott told William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach college admissions consultant who, like the proctor, is now a felon after admitting to rigging dozens of entrance exams for wealthy families like the Abbotts.
The proctor, Mark Riddell, didn’t just monitor the girl’s exams: He corrected her answers once she was finished, Marcia and Gregory Abbott admitted Wednesday in federal court in Boston, where they pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy.
Another parent, Peter Jan Sartorio of Menlo Park, pleaded guilty to the same charge and admitted to conspiring with Singer to inflate his daughter’s ACT score.
As of Wednesday, 10 parents — among 16 people total — have pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering crimes committed as part of Singer’s scheme.
Riddell, a 36-year-old Harvard graduate and director of exam preparation at IMG Academy in Florida, was paid thousands of dollars to tamper with both girls’ exams. Singer also bribed administrators at two schools, in West Hollywood and Houston, to turn a blind eye to the fraud, prosecutors say.
With Riddell’s help, the Abbotts’ daughter notched a 35 out of 36 on the ACT, a score in the 99th percentile. Sartorio’s daughter secured a 27 out of 36 on the ACT, good for the 86th percentile nationally. She had scored in the 51st percentile on an earlier entrance exam.
For the test-rigging services, Sartorio paid Singer $15,000 in cash. The Abbotts wired $50,000 from a family foundation to Singer’s charity, which had no real charitable purpose and was used to launder bribes.
Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and obstruction of justice. Riddell has pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Both are awaiting sentencing.
Sartorio, 53, runs a frozen foods enterprise that includes selling frozen burritos under the PJ’s Organics line. Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts recommend Sartorio be sentenced at the low end of guidelines that call for six months in prison to no time at all, according to his plea agreement and federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors say he should be fined $9,500.
Prosecutors recommend Gregory Abbott spend a year in prison and pay a $55,000 fine. They recommend the same sentence and fine for Marcia Abbott.
Gregory Abbott, 68, is the founder and chairman of a packaging company for the food and beverage industry. He and his wife split their time between New York City and Aspen.
A 1987 notice published in the New York Times commemorating his marriage to Marcia Meighan described Gregory Abbott as a novelist and former chairman of a lingerie manufacturer, Ithaca Industries, which was founded by his father.
He authored a 2006 romantic paperback, “Sheer Pressure,” which tells the story of “Alex, the playboy son of a pantyhose magnate, [who] loves his father but loathes working for him,” according to a summary on Amazon.com.
In conversations intercepted by the FBI and transcribed in court documents, the Abbotts told Singer their hopes for their daughter — to see her matriculate at Duke, her mother’s alma mater — and what they were willing to do to make it happen.
After their daughter’s test was fixed in April 2018, netting her a 35 out of 36 on the ACT, Singer told the couple it was “a good thing that she did this.”
Had they not hired him, Singer said, she would have scored a 23.
Two months later, Marcia Abbott asked Singer if he could rig SAT subject tests, which are often submitted as supplements to an application and are scored out of 800 points.
Duke “told us they didn’t want anything below a 750,” Marcia Abbott said, according to the transcript. Marcia Abbott had graduated cum laude from Duke, according to the wedding notice in the New York Times.
In September 2018, Singer confirmed that Riddell would fix math and literature tests for the Abbotts’ daughter, and that “we’ll get 750 and above.”
“Fabulous,” Marcia Abbott said.
The Abbotts wired Singer another $75,000 from their family foundation. With Riddell’s help, their daughter scored 800 and 710 on the math and literature tests, respectively. There is no indication in court documents she knew her parents had conspired with Singer to tamper with the exams.
“Do you know how she did on her own?” Gregory Abbott asked Singer afterward.
“Do I know how she did on her own? Yeah, I do,” Singer said. “She scored in the mid-600s.”
By then, Singer was cooperating with investigators. On their instructions, he called Sartorio in October 2018 and told him his foundation was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, which could come calling with questions about Sartorio’s five-figure cash “donation” a year earlier.