Thursday, September 12, 2019

Gaining Admission

From the LA Times: Five years before William “Rick” Singer became known as the mastermind of the nationwide college admissions scandal, an internal investigation at UCLA uncovered key elements of his scam. The first indication of trouble came in a phone call to the school on May 13, 2014. The mother of a high school student wanted to appeal the university’s decision to reject her daughter’s admission as a water polo recruit. The daughter had never played the sport.

“During this conversation,” a report on the investigation said, “the mother stated she was ‘still willing to pay.’ When asked to what she was referring, [the mother] explained that she understood from [Singer] that she was expected to donate $100K to the program, for the admission of her daughter through athletics.”

The report shows UCLA had gathered evidence echoing the allegations in this year’s criminal case against Singer and showing that he was attempting to manipulate admissions to one of the nation’s most celebrated collegiate sports programs. University officials were concerned enough to interview Singer, who denied wrongdoing, and brief UCLA Chancellor Gene Block on the investigation.

Beyond water polo, the report said, Singer advised at least two students who were recruited for the UCLA men’s tennis team even though the school characterized their athletic ability as “limited.” After their admission, their parents made significant donations to the tennis program.

UCLA spokesman Tod Tamberg said the school responded to the report with a range of reforms, including a ban on donations from families of athletic recruits until they enrolled. A handful of coaches also were disciplined.

Singer, however, continued to forge close ties with the school, hosting summer workshops on the Westwood campus. Federal prosecutors allege he also paid $200,000 in bribes to UCLA’s men’s soccer coach to help admit two students as fake soccer recruits.

Several legal and higher education experts told The Times the report shows the university missed an early opportunity to stop Singer.

“UCLA should have immediately notified law enforcement authorities,” said Bradley Simon, a former federal prosecutor whose practice areas include white collar criminal defense and corporate investigations. “Had they done so at the time, UCLA would not be enmeshed in the current scandal.”

Tamberg defended UCLA’s response, saying Singer was not the focus of its investigation, which also examined a second suspicious athletic recruitment that did not involve the consultant. The inquiry, Tamberg said, was designed to ensure that UCLA’s athletics department policies complied with University of California rules prohibiting any consideration of financial benefits during the admissions process...

Additional records obtained by The Times show Singer’s connections to UCLA date back to at least 2008, when he donated $30,000 to the school’s recreation department. Internal emails also show Singer or his associates corresponded with three UCLA head coaches other than former men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo as early as 2012, though there’s nothing in the messages to suggest they knew about his illegal activities...

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