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Tennis player who never played: Dad to plead guilty for $400K bribe to get son into Georgetown

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Tennis player who never played: Dad to plead guilty for $400K bribe to get son into Georgetown


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William “Rick” Singer is the accused “mastermind” of the college admissions scandal. But where did he come from and how did he get to this point?
USA TODAY

An executive from Los Angeles is expected to plead guilty Tuesday afternoon to conspiracy charges for paying $400,000 in bribes to Rick Singer, the mastermind of a national college admissions scandal, to get his son into Georgetown University. 

In a deal with prosecutors, Stephen Semprevivo, an executive at Cydcor, a “privately held provider of outsourced sales teams,” has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. 

Semprevivo would become the third parent and eighth overall defendant in the “Varsity Blues” scandal to plead guilty in court. Another 11 parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, have agreed to plead guilty and have hearings later this month.

Prosecutors say Semprevivo wrote a $400,000 check from his family trust to a sham nonprofit operated by Singer in April 2016 after his son was admitted into Georgetown. They say a portion of the money was then paid to then-tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who had designated the son as a Georgetown tennis player to facilitate his entry even though he knew didn’t play the sport competitively. 

The Justice Department has recommended Semprevivo receive a prison sentence of 18 months, substantially lower than the maximum penalty of 20 years as a result of the guilty plea. They’ve also recommended a fine of $95,000, one year of supervision after his release and that he pay an undetermined amount of restitution and forfeiture. 

His case goes before U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani, who will decide whether to accept the plea agreement.

More: Mom from China who paid $6.5M to Rick Singer says Stanford daughter a ‘victim’ of admissions scam

More: Couple who paid $600K to get kids into UCLA, USC pleads guilty in college admissions scandal

Ernst, who left Georgetown to become the head women’s tennis coach at University of Rhode Island in 2018, last month pleaded not-guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges. He’s accused of taking more than $2.7 million in bribes to designate at least 12 recruits, including Semprevivo’s son, as tennis players. The University of Rhode Island put Ernst on leave after he was indicted. 

More: 12 defendants in biggest-ever college admissions cheating scandal plead not guilty in Boston court

In an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Semprevivo, prosecutors point to emailed instructions that Singer sent in August 2015 to Semprevivo, his spouse and his son. The email advised the son to send his transcript, test scores and a note Singer had drafted explaining how he looks forward to playing tennis at Georgetown to Ernst.

Later that day, the son sent the note to Ernst, who prosecutors say then forwarded it to the college admissions staff member. In October 2015, Singer sent Semprevivo, his wife and their son an essay for the son to include in his application.

Part the essay read:  “When I walk into a room, people will normally look up and make a comment about my height – I’m 6’5 – and ask me if I play basketball. With a smile, I nod my head, but also insist that the sport I put my most energy into is tennis.” 

The son’s application into Georgetown falsely said he played singles and doubles tennis all four years and was ranked. It also described him as a “CIF Scholar Athlete” and “Academic All American” in tennis and basketball and stated that he made the “Nike Federation All Academic Athletic Team” in tennis. 

The son’s applications into other school did not reference tennis at all, according to prosecutors.

More: Inside Rick Singer’s college admissions network: An ex-con half brother, a Welsh soccer team and a former NFL owner

The son was initially told in November 2015 that his application “at the request” of Ernst was put into the likely category of those admitted, giving him a 95 percent chance at acceptance. He was granted formal admissions in April 2016. The check from Semprevivo to Singer’s nonprofit followed, according to the Justice Department. Between September 2015 and November 2016, Singer’s nonprofit paid $950,000 to Ernst for his purported recruitment of Semprevivo’s son and others.

Prosecutors say the son started at Georgetown in the fall of 2016 and did not join the tennis team.

In late 2018 and early 2019, the Justice Department had Singer – who by this point was cooperating with federal investigators – call Semprevivo and his spouse to discuss the 2016 transaction. 

The complaint against Semprevivo references separate phone conversations, recorded by law enforcement, in which Singer tells him and his spouse that his nonprofit is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. Singer recounts their past deal in detail “to make sure that we were on the same page as I talk to the IRS.”

Neither seem to object to Singer’s description during phone conversations that took place in October and December 2018.

But the tone changed during a final phone call that occurred March 3, less than two weeks before Semprevivo, Singer and 48 others were formally charged of crimes. In the call, Singer tells Semprevivo that he got a call from Georgetown that they’re investigating internally why several students who weren’t tennis players were admitted as tennis players through Ernst:

Semprevivo: “You know, all I know is that we, you know, we used you for the charity stuff and we used you for the counseling, and your dealings are your dealings. And so, you know.”

Singer: “No I get that. And I understand that, but at the same time we were all a part of … “

Semprevivo: “No, I don’t agree with that at all.”

Singer: “You don’t agree that we got him in through tennis and you didn’t know
that [inaudible]?”

Semprevivo: “I don’t. I don’t. I do — you know, you did what you did … and that
was your stuff. Okay?”

Semprevivo’s hearing is followed by plea hearings next Monday for Huffman, the actress, as well as Devin Sloane, another Los Angeles executive accused of illegally making bribes to get his son into college. Lori Loughlin, another celebtriy accused of crimes in the college admissions case, has pleaded not-guilty and awaits a hearing June 3. 

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