Wealthy couple gets prison terms for U.S. college admissions scam

BOSTON (Reuters) - The founder of a food and beverage packaging company and his wife were each sentenced to one month in prison on Tuesday for their roles in what prosecutors say is the largest college admissions scam uncovered in the United States.

FILE PHOTO: Marcia Abbott and her husband Gregory Abbott, the Founder and Chairman of International Dispensing Corp. facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme, leave the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

Gregory and Marcia Abbott received lighter sentences than the eight-month terms sought by federal prosecutors in Boston after they admitted to paying $125,000 to have a corrupt test proctor secretly correct their daughter’s answers on college entrance exams.

The couple’s sentence by U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani also includes a requirement that they each pay a $45,000 fine. They previously pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Lawyers for the Abbotts did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Abbotts are among 52 people charged with participating in a vast 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 that 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 in the investigation include executives and celebrities, such as “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman and “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin.

Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison on Sept. 13 after pleading guilty to engaging in the college exam cheating scheme. Loughlin has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said the Abbotts in 2018 arranged through Singer to have an associate pose as a proctor for their daughter’s ACT and SAT exams to correct her answers at a test center Singer controlled through bribery.

The proctor was Mark Riddell, a former counselor at a Florida private school who pleaded guilty in April to secretly taking SAT and ACT college entrance exams in place of Singer’s clients’ children or correcting their answers.

Prosecutors said the Abbotts’ goal was to improve their daughter’s prospects for gaining admission to Duke University, Marcia Abbott’s alma mater.

In papers, the Abbotts’ lawyers said they were good people who made an “aberrational, terrible decision.” They argued the couple deserved a term of probation.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot