JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
The mastermind of the Varsity Blues college admission scheme was sentenced today to 3 1/2 years in prison. And as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, he must pay more than $19 million. Rick Singer had pleaded guilty to helping dozens of wealthy parents cheat their kids' way into top-tier schools using bribes, phony test scores and fake resumes.
NPR's Tovia Smith was at the sentencing in Boston and joins us now. Hi, Tovia.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Hi there.
SUMMERS: So prosecutors wanted six years, and Singer was asking for no time at all. So it seems like things kind of settled into a middle ground?
SMITH: Exactly. Prosecutors wanted more. They said, given the gravity of the scheme and how long Rick Singer was at it - remember, this was not just padding a couple resumes. Singer literally photoshopped students to make them look like star athletes in sports that they never played. And he bribed coaches to take them as recruits. And he also paid people to take admissions tests for students or correct their wrong answers. And he took in, like, $25 million on it all.
But Singer argued he should get a discount, if you will, on his sentencing 'cause he was so helpful - secretly recording hundreds of phone calls to help prosecutors make their cases against other defendants, dozens of them. But prosecutors say Singer also blew some cases by tipping off parents that were being investigated. So the judge ultimately decided this was serious business, as she put it, with huge amounts of money, dishonesty and harm to people and institutions. And this 3 1/2 years where she landed is less than prosecutors wanted but still more than any other Varsity Blues defendant.
SUMMERS: Remind us, Tovia, if you can, what the other sentences have looked like.
SMITH: Right. The longest before this was 2 1/2 years - a tennis coach that was, who took bribes to get students into Georgetown. Nearly two-thirds of the sentences ran from no prison time to three months. So of the 50 or so co-conspirators, this - what Rick Singer got - is way more time and also way more money that he will have to pay.
SUMMERS: Singer was in court today. And this is the first time we've heard from him since the scandal broke back in 2019. What did he have to say today?
SMITH: He said, I'm ashamed of myself - without a lot of emotion. He was reading from a statement. He also made a point of apologizing to the people he brought into the scheme and the schools he embarrassed. He said it was his dad who taught him that winning was everything, and he said he should've known better back then. But he says he does now, and he wants to devote the rest of his life to helping underserved kids.
SUMMERS: And before I let you go, in the bit of time we have left, has anything changed in the world of college admissions since all of this came to light?
SMITH: So prosecutors say these cases have prompted big reforms, though many take issue with that. None of the extra security around testing or recruiting, for example, addresses the inequities in admissions that are perfectly legal, like favoring kids of big donors or kids of alumni through legacy admissions.
I spoke to one person who has spent decades in admissions and advocating for equity in the process. And what he said is that he gives the current state of admissions equity a C, which is the same letter grade, he says, as he would have given before all this.
SUMMERS: NPR's Tovia Smith, thank you.
SMITH: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.