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College Admissions Scam: Follow the Money Behind The Key Worldwide Foundation

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit reviewed IRS tax forms filed by The Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF) and found the non-profit received $7,065,675 in contributions and spent close to $4,953,630 between 2013 and 2016.

According to the tax forms recipients of grants and donations from KWF listed include prominent schools like the University of Southern California, Yale, Chapman University, and the University of Texas. Federal prosecutors say many of those listed charity grants were cover for bribes paid to athletic officials, coaches and others at those schools.

According to the non-profit’s mission statement: "The Key Worldwide Foundation endeavours to provide education that would normally be unattainable to underprivileged students, not only attainable but realistic With programs that are designed to assist young people in everyday situations, and educational situations, we hope to open new avenues of educational access to students that would normally have no access to these programs Our contributions to major athletic university programs, may help to provide placement to students that may not have access under normal channel."

But federal investigators allege KWF used payments from wealthy donors to hide large sums of money given to universities as part of the overall scheme to bribe college coaches and other officials as part of the largest college admissions scam federal officials say they’ve seen to date. One of the main defendants in the federal investigation, Rick Singer, who pleaded guilty Tuesday, was listed in IRS tax documents as the President and CEO of The Key Worldwide Foundation.

In addition to those colleges and universities the recipients listed on KWF’s IRS 990 tax forms include the Bay Area non-profit called Friends of Cambodia, with an address listed in Palo Alto. The 990’s reported KWF donated $19,200 in 2015 and $18,550 in 2016 to Friends of Cambodia.

NBC Bay Area spoke to Elia and Halimah Van Tuyl who run Friends of Cambodia at the organization’s Palo Alto address. The couple was stunned to learn their organization is listed on KWF’s tax returns and claimed they have never heard of KWF and never received any money.

“There’s no record of any of these donations” Halimah Van Tuyl said.

“I would have noticed those, we’re not that big,” Elia Van Tuyl added.

The Van Tuyls said they run a legitimate fund that helps provide college room and board for impoverished young people in Cambodia and have no idea how KWF got their address to report on the tax documents.

“All of these [other donations] are like big donations to universities and then there’s this little donation to Friends of Cambodia. It’s a smaller donation. It’s a random thing. I don’t know why it would be. I have no idea,” Elia Van Tuyl said.

Friends of Cambodia does not even have a bank account and donors make checks out to “Give to Asia,” a 501c3 non-profit based out of San Francisco that funnels the money to locations and causes recommended by Friends of Cambodia. Van Tuyl says Friends of Cambodia usually receives donations ranging between $250 to $500 and the largest donation it ever received was from one donation for $10,000. “If I would have gotten $19,000 from someone called The Key (Worldwide) Foundation I would have known about it,” said Van Tuyl. Friends of Cambodia is not listed, associated, connected or linked in any way to the federal investigation into the college admissions scheme that resulted in 50 people being indicted and already two guilty pleas including the CEO and President of KWF.

KWF also reports on its 990’s that none of its officers take a salary and 99 percent of their expenditures go towards programs helping underserved students.

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