Their parents paid to cheat them into elite colleges. What happens to them now?
When Marin County investor Todd Blake touted his daughter’s admission to the University of Southern California on social media a year ago, she apparently had no clue he’d allegedly paid $250,000 to cheat her way into the elite school as a phony volleyball recruit.
So should she and other students like her caught up in a massive nationwide university admissions cheating scandal be punished?
That was among the burning questions Wednesday, a day after bombshell news broke of the case that implicated dozens of wealthy parents in the Bay Area and beyond.
Officials at many of the universities targeted by the fraud said Wednesday they were reviewing students cases individually, and at least one school, the University of Southern California, said it would deny any current applicants tied to the scheme.
Prosecutors allege the parents paid an intermediary, William Rick Singer, to fraudulently improve their kids’ scores on standardized tests and to bribe coaches at elite universities to declare them as sports recruits in exchange for generous donations to their programs.
For the grownups involved, justice came down swiftly. Singer, who cooperated with investigators’ efforts to implicate his associates and clients, pleaded guilty. So did a Stanford sailing coach who participated in the scheme. He and other accused coaches also were fired or suspended.
Many of the parents slapped with federal charges are also suffering the consequences in their professional lives.
Palo Alto hedge fund Hercules Capital announced Wednesday that Manuel Henriquez, charged along with his wife, has voluntarily stepped aside as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Bill McGlashan, a Bay Area private equity investor also charged, was put on leave from the TPG Growth fund.
But prosecutors made a point of not charging the kids, most of whom were said to have been unaware of their parents alleged scheming on their behalf.
Henriquez’ older daughter, however, allegedly “gloated” with her mother and the guy accused of helping her cheat on a standardized test in October 2015 “about the fact that they had cheated and gotten away with it.” She was admitted to Georgetown University the following spring as a member of the tennis team despite unimpressive athletic credentials, court documents said.
Universities now face hard choices in how to deal with students admitted through the cheating scheme Singer called a “side door” amid national outrage from parents and students fretting over their chances of legitimately getting accepted through a top school’s “front door.”
At Georgetown University, media relations manager Matt Hill would only say Wednesday that “we’re reviewing the details of the indictment and will be taking appropriate action.”
Don Heider, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, which was not implicated in the scandal, said Wednesday that universities would likely expel a student who knowingly participated. But it would be a tough call for those who were unaware.
“If you have credible evidence she had knowledge, you have to seriously think about ‘you finish the year and that’s it, you need to transfer to another university,'” Heider said. “If you don’t have credible evidence, I’m not sure it’s ethical to punish the student.”
It wasn’t clear if any students with bogus applications detailed in the court documents ended up at Bay Area schools. While Stanford’s sailing coach John Vandemoer pled guilty to promising coveted admissions spots to two students in exchange for more than $200,000 in payments to the sailing program, the students ended up attending other schools. Stanford pledged to re-direct the money it received in the scheme to an “entity unaffiliated with Stanford,” but would not answer questions Wednesday about its plans.