Mastermind of 'Varsity Blues' college cheating scandal sentenced to 42 months

"I am ashamed of myself," Singer said at his sentencing.

January 4, 2023, 4:54 PM

BOSTON -- William "Rick" Singer, the ringleader in a college admissions cheating scandal that spanned the country, was sentenced to 42 months in prison by a federal judge on Wednesday. Singer will then be on supervised release for three more years.

He will turn himself over to authorities on Feb. 27.

The former college admissions consultant pleaded guilty in March 2019 to helping parents of dozens of well-to-do high school students cheat their way into elite universities.

His sentence comes nearly four years after his plea, as he helped prosecutors convict his former clients, including high-powered executives, fashion moguls and Hollywood actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

Singer, 62, pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of six years in prison -- much more than the six-month maximum Singer's lawyers requested.

Prosecutors called it the "most massive fraud" ever perpetrated in the U.S. education system.

"Without this defendant, without Rick Singer coming up with a scheme, masterminding the scheme, orchestrating the scheme it never would have happened,” the prosecutor said.

Singer's lawyer Candice Fields said Wednesday in a statement: "It was a sobering day in court but Rick is resilient and committed to a future dedicated to the underserved. He hopes to continue making amends for mistakes of the past."

His sentence all but marks the end of "Operation Varsity Blues," the moniker for the FBI's investigation that uncovered a cheating ring of approximately 50 defendants.

Among those prosecuted were parents who paid Singer more than $6 million, Ivy League coaches who opened sham spots on their rosters for Singer's clients in exchange for bribes and test administrators who were paid to fudge applicants' entrance exam scores.

Prosecutors said Singer was the mastermind of the decadeslong scheme, which has since become the subject of at least four books, a Lifetime movie and a Netflix documentary.

“He is the architect, he is the face of this fraud," the prosecutor said.

Before the sentencing, Singer read a letter apologizing to students whose parents paid him to bribe their kids' way into school, to some of the institutions, and to his family and friends.

"Those students were intelligent and deserving of more integrity than I showed them," he read aloud in court.

"I can see the difference between how I was and how I am now and always want to be," he said. "All I want to do is live a life that is deeper and more enriched by devoting myself to making a difference in other people's lives," he continued.

"Despite my passion to help others, I have lost my ethical values and I have so much regret. To be frank, I am ashamed of myself," he also said.

Singer sat slumped in his chair between his two attorneys throughout the hearing, and did not react to the sentence.

He had convinced wealthy clients to pay him bribes in order to give their children a leg up at schools such as Yale, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, prosecutors said. Singer then funneled the money through his charity he said would support disadvantaged youth, allowing his co-conspirators to write off their dues as tax deductions.

Singer was "exceptionally valuable" following his plea deal, according to prosecutors' sentencing memorandum. He agreed to have his phone tapped to help indict his former clients and accomplices, allowing the government to secure the convictions.

Still, his cooperation was laden with missteps, prosecutors wrote. He met in person with at least six of his former clients to warn them about the investigation and was subsequently convicted of obstructing justice.

"He was the architect and mastermind of a criminal enterprise that massively corrupted the integrity of the college admissions process," prosecutors wrote in the memorandum.

"Without Singer, the scheme never would have happened," they added.

In his own memorandum, Singer wrote that he had forfeited his assets, including a sprawling mansion in Orange County, California, which he exchanged for a modest home in a Florida trailer park.

"I have been reflecting on my very poor judgment and criminal activities that increasingly had become my way of life," he wrote. "I have woken up every day feeling shame, remorse and regret."

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.