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Stanford Sailing Coach Pleads Guilty in College Admissions Bribery Scandal

Thirteen other people from the Bay Area have also been indicted in the scheme. They were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud

What to Know

  • At least 40, including two actresses, have been indicted in a nationwide college entrance exam cheating scandal, according to court docs.
  • The accused allegedly tried to get students into high-profile colleges as recruited athletes, regardless of athletic ability.
  • Some indicted include college coaches; however, there's no indication the schools were involved.

A Stanford sailing head coach, who was among at least 50 people indicted by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Boston Tuesday, has pleaded guilty in a nationwide college entrance exam cheating scandal.

John Vandemoer, who has been a coach at the private university for 11 years, appeared in front of a Massachusetts judge Tuesday to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering in which the Stanford sailing program received $770,000 in exchange for recruiting spots on the team, according to court documents.

College Admissions-Bribery
Steven Senne/AP
John Vandemoer, former head sailing coach at Stanford, arrives at federal court in Boston on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, where he was expected to plead guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.

The documents, which were unsealed Tuesday morning, allege that dozens of people aimed to facilitate students getting into high-profile Division 1 schools, including Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, Yale, University of Texas, University of San Diego, University of Southern California and Wake Forest as recruited athletes regardless of their athletic ability.

Prosecutors allege that William Rick Singer, the owner of Edge College & Career Network and the accused at the center of the scheme, conspired to take bribes from the parents of college hopefuls.

In the summer of 2017, Vandemoer agreed to recruit one of Singer's clients to the Stanford sailing team, despite the student's lack of experience in competitive sailing, with the help of former USC soccer assistant coach Laura Janke, who created a fake student-athlete "profile" that was submitted to Stanford, according to the documents.

After said student deferred his application to Stanford for one year, Singer paid the university's sailing program $110,000 from the nonprofit he established in Newport Beach called The Key Worldwide Foundation in exchange for Vandemoer's agreement to recruit the student the next year.

While that student decided not to attend Stanford, Vandemoer and Singer agreed in the summer of 2018 that the same recruiting spot would be used for another applicant for $500,000 donated to the sailing program, the court document said.

The second applicant also did not apply to Stanford, but Vandermoer's sailing program still received another $160,000 from the KWF.

There's no indication the schools were involved, according to NBC News. However, authorities advised that more charges could be coming.

Stanford said it has fired Vandemoer since learning about the charges. 

"The alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford’s values," the university said in a statment. "Based on the Department of Justice investigation to date, we have no evidence that the alleged conduct involves anyone else at Stanford or is associated with any other team. However, we will be undertaking an internal review to confirm that."


Thirteen other people from the Bay Area also have been indicted in the scheme. They were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. It wasn't immediately clear what their roles were, but many appear to be parents of applicants.


Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among others charged in connection with the scheme, which was dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues," according to court documents. Loughlin's husband, Target clothing line designer Mossimo Giannulli, also was indicted.

"There will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy, and there will not be a separate criminal justice system either," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said Tuesday morning.

Federal prosecutors allege wealthy parents paid "enormous sums" to guarantee their child's admission to elite universities. The students would allegedly be labeled as recruited athletes when they were not -- with some going as far as photoshopping their faces onto stock sports images -- by a consulting company at the heart of the scheme, which is also accused of bribing college entrance exam administrators to let a Florida man to take the tests on the students' behalf or replace their answers with his own.

Click here to read more about other indictments.

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