Former Key Worldwide Employee Charged With Bribery and Fraud in College Admissions Case

By - August 14, 2020
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A ex-employee of William Singer’s ‘The Key’ for-profit company was charged last year with bribery and fraud related to her involvement in a conspiracy to facilitate admissions of unqualified applicants to colleges across the US.

The Department of Justice also announced last week that Mikaela Sanford, 34, will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering. No plea hearing has been set up yet.

Per the terms of the agreement, the US government will recommend a sentence at the low end of the US Sentencing Guidelines, a year of supervised release, a fine, and forfeiture of $67,000 that she made from Singer’s scheme.

Some legal experts believe Sanford will be sentenced to 15 to 21 months in prison. In reducing the sentence, federal prosecutors said Sanford was a minor participant in a much larger conspiracy.

Sanford Took Classes for Students to Improve Their GPAs

According to the indictment, Sanford, an employee of ‘The Key,’ took online classes for applicants so the students could submit the high grades Sanford earned for them as part of their applications for many colleges and universities.

In one case, she retook an online art history class where the daughter of Robert Zangrillo, a venture capitalist in Miami, had gotten an F, according to an FBI agent.

Zangrillo also inquired if Sanford could take the young woman’s biology class, and Sanford did so. Zangrillo told her if she could take the biology class, it needed to be done as soon as possible.

Zangrillo has pleaded not guilty to fraud and conspiracy. He and three others will go to trial in October.

In other cases, Sanford fabricated athletic profiles and related documents to improve students’ college applications by making the students look like successful high school athletes when they were not.

A federal racketeering conspiracy charge provides a sentence in federal prison of up to 20 years, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. A federal district court judge gives sentences according to the US Sentencing Guidelines.

Singer Admitted To Defrauding Elite US Universities

Singer, who has pleaded guilty to four federal felonies, admitted in 2019 that he defrauded some of the most elite universities in the country for ten years. He fixed ACT and SAT college entrance exams, devised fake profiles that described students as elite high school athletes, and gave bribes to university coaches to push for their admission.

Sanford was indicted in March 2019 in the racketeering conspiracy that involved a dozen officials and coaches from USC, UCLA, Georgetown, and Wake Forest. Two proctors for the ACT and SAT exams also were involved.

‘The Key’ was supposedly a non-profit organization, but it served no known charitable purpose. Singer has admitted that he used it for money laundering payments from wealthy clients and to give bribes to test proctors, coaches, and other people on salary. Its nonprofit status allowed clients to deduct the bribes from their state and federal taxes.

Other Participants in College Admissions Scandal Will Do Time

Singer and Sanford are not the only participants in this broad college admissions conspiracy who will do time.

A former men’s soccer coach at UCLA agreed last April to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit racketeering related to his taking $200,000 in bribes. He ensured that two students pretending to be soccer recruits would be admitted to UCLA.

Jorge Salcedo was the head coach of the soccer team from 2004 to 2019. Federal prosecutors have recommended that he serve on the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines, likely meaning he will serve 24 to 30 months. He also must forfeit the $200,000 he earned in the scheme and have a year of supervised release.

Federal prosecutors say that Salcedo agreed with Singer in 2016 to ensure the daughter of Bruce and Davina Isackson would be designated a soccer recruit. In 2018, the two men made another similar arrangement to ensure the son of another client was admitted to UCLA as a soccer recruit.

Salcedo, a Major League Soccer player for several years, resigned as UCLA men’s soccer coach in 2019 after the federal indictment.

His guilty plea leaves three other ex-coaches fighting charges. They are ex-Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, former Wake Forest volleyball coach William Ferguson and former USC polo coach Jovan Vavi.

Two other alleged co-conspirators have said they are innocent: former USC athletic department official Donna Heinel, former test administrator Niki Williams.

A group of 14 indicted parents, including actress Lori Loughlin, will go to trial in October.