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California

Bookkeeper for mastermind of college admissions scandal will plead guilty

Andrew Lelling
Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, announces charges in the college admissions scandal in March.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Steven Masera, the California accountant accused of handling the books for a test-fixing and bribery scheme that defrauded some of the country’s top universities, will plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy and has agreed to cooperate with investigators, according to court documents unsealed Friday.

As bookkeeper for William “Rick” Singer’s business and foundation, Masera, 69, billed parents who hired the Newport Beach college consultant to fix their children’s entrance exams and slip them into elite universities with bribes, according to an indictment charging Masera and 11 others in March with racketeering conspiracy.

Masera, who lives in the Sacramento suburb of Folsom, wrote the parents letters from Singer’s sham foundation, declaring falsely that nothing was exchanged for the five- and six-figure payments that, in truth, prosecutors say, went toward paying off coaches and test proctors.

The letters allowed Singer’s clients to write off the payments on their taxes.

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Singer has pleaded guilty to four felonies and admitted to overseeing the scheme. He is awaiting sentencing.

Masera, who initially pleaded not guilty, signed his plea agreement Wednesday, according to a copy filed in federal court. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend Masera be sentenced at the low end of guidelines that call for 57 to 71 months in prison, according to his plea agreement and federal sentencing guidelines.

Masera’s attorneys, however, have reserved the right to argue his sentence should be calculated at a slightly lower range.

Masera also brokered a cooperation deal, indicating he’s provided, or convinced investigators he can provide, new information about Singer’s scheme. In the charging documents, Masera appears deeply involved in the operation, handling payments from parents and directing bribes to the coaches and test proctors Singer allegedly kept on his payroll.

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The letters Masera furnished from Singer’s charity appeared to be a particular sweetener to parents who took part in the scheme: One Northern California father, who pleaded guilty to three felonies earlier this month, used the letter to write off a “contribution” totaling more than $250,000 in 2016. Bruce Isackson acknowledged in court that the payment — made in Facebook stock — went toward a six-figure bribe to ensure his daughter was admitted to UCLA as a soccer recruit.

If prosecutors decide Masera furnished them with useful information, they can recommend he be sentenced below the range laid out in his plea deal.

Judges, however, are not required to follow recommendations from prosecutors. And if Masera pleads guilty as planned, he will waive his right to challenge any sentence of 71 months or less, according to his plea deal.

Masera became the second of the 12 people indicted for racketeering conspiracy to signal an intention to plead guilty. Laura Janke, a former USC soccer coach, pleaded guilty earlier this month. She, too, has signed a cooperation deal with prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which is leading the investigation.

The remaining 10 — a group that includes coaches from USC, UCLA, Georgetown and Wake Forest — have pleaded not guilty.


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