April 24, 2019 / 10:25 AM / a month ago

Ex-University of Texas tennis coach in college admissions scandal pleads guilty

BOSTON (Reuters) - The former head coach of the men’s tennis team at the University of Texas at Austin pleaded guilty on Wednesday as part of deal to cooperate with prosecutors in their ongoing investigation of the U.S. college admissions scandal.

Michael Center (center), the former head coach of men’s tennis at the University of Texas at Austin, exits the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Nate Raymond

Michael Center, 55, is among several sports coaches at universities including Yale and Georgetown who federal prosecutors in Boston say took bribes to designate students as fake athletic recruits as part of a $25 million scheme.

Prosecutors have charged 50 people, including the actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, with participating in the scheme, which involved using bribery and cheating to help wealthy parents’ children gain admission to universities.

Center pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud related to $100,000 in bribes that prosecutors said he took to help a wealthy father secure his son’s admission at the school.

He faces up to 15 to 21 months under federal sentencing guidelines. But prosecutors have agreed to recommend a sentence below that range if Center assists their investigation. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 30.

“He is very sorry for what he did, and at this point, he wants to make amends,” said John Cunha, Center’s lawyer.

California college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer pleaded guilty in March to charges that he helped parents facilitate cheating on college entrance exams and bribed coaches at universities to falsely present their children as athletic recruits.

Prosecutors said Center agreed to accept bribes from Singer in 2015 in exchange for designating the son of a client as a tennis recruit, even though he had limited tennis experience.

Singer flew to Austin in June 2015 and gave Center $60,000 in cash, according to prosecutors. They said another $40,000 was directed to the University of Texas tennis program as donations.

In total, 20 people have agreed to plead guilty since prosecutors unveiled the case on March 12, including “Desperate Housewives” actress Huffman, who is scheduled to plead guilty on May 21.

Three other former coaches have agreed to plead guilty. On Tuesday, a former University of Southern California assistant women’s soccer coach agreed to plead guilty for her part in the scheme.

Thirty-three parents were among those charged, including “Full House” star Loughlin, who has pleaded not guilty to paying bribes to get her two daughters admitted to USC.

Reporting by Nate Raymond; editing by Bill Berkrot

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