October 30, 2019 / 10:31 PM / 13 days ago

California businessman gets prison for U.S. college admissions scam

BOSTON (Reuters) - A former California business executive was sentenced on Wednesday to two months in prison for taking part in a vast U.S. college admissions fraud scheme by paying $250,000 to secure his son’s admission to the University of Southern California.

California businessman Jeffrey Bizzack leaves the federal courthouse after being sentenced in connection with a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Katherine Taylor

Federal prosecutors in Boston had sought nine months in prison for Jeffrey Bizzack, who they said sought to secure his son’s admission through a “side door” by agreeing to bribe a USC official to designate him as a fake athletic recruit.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock said prosecutors lacked evidence to support some of their arguments for a higher sentence. He said Bizzack, 59, also deserved credit for coming forward after other parents were arrested in March.

He ordered Bizzack to serve a prison term and pay a $250,000 fine to send a message to other well-off parents who might consider engaging in similar “privileged” schemes, which he said contribute to a sense of a class divide in the country.

“It’s a sneaky crime of conspicuous consumption,” Woodlock said.

Bizzack is among 52 people charged with participating in a scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with a California college admissions consultant to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of their children to top schools.

William “Rick” Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty in March to charges he facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and helped bribe sports coaches at universities to present his clients’ children as fake athletic recruits.

The 35 parents charged since March include “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, who was sentenced to a 14-day prison term after pleading guilty, and “Full House” star Lori Loughlin, who is fighting the charges.

Prosecutors said that in 2017, Bizzack agreed with Singer to secure his son’s admission to USC through a scheme that involved bribing an athletics official to designate him as a volleyball recruit.

After his son was conditionally accepted, Bizzack wrote a $50,000 check to a USC account controlled by the official.

He later sent $200,000 to a charity operated by Singer, who then made further bribe payments to the official for facilitating the admission of the children of Bizzack and his other wealthy clients, prosecutors said.

Bizzack, a former business partner of famed surfer Kelly Slater, pleaded guilty in July to conspiring to commit honest services mail fraud. In court on Wednesday, he apologized for “the worst set of decisions I have made in my life.”

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Diane Craft

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