Posted On 12 Jun 2019
BOSTON — Stanford University’s former sailing coach avoided significant prison time and was sentenced to just one day behind bars on Wednesday for his role in a massive college admissions scandal.
John Vandemoer was the first person to be sentenced in the sweeping corruption scandal that exposed the sophisticated network of college admissions ringleader William Rick Singer, who helped children of well-heeled clients cheat their way into elite universities.
U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobe sided with defense lawyers who said their client should not get more than the one day, which the judge dismissed as time served. The government had asked the judge to sentence Vandemoer to 13 months in prison.
In court on Wednesday, Vandemoer’s voice choked with emotion as apologized for his actions.
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“I want to be seen as someone who takes responsibility for mistakes,” he said. “I want to tell you how I intend to live from this point forward. I will never again lose sight of my values.”
Singer was among several college sports coaches caught up in the sweeping federal probe dubbed, “Operation Varsity Blues.” The scandal netted Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Huffman and “Full House” star Lori Loughlin.
Before Wednesday, Vandemoer had already pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy for accepting $770,000 in bribes on behalf of the school’s sailing program.
Vandemoer received three separate payments of $500,000, $110,000 and $160,000 between fall 2016 and October 2018 on behalf of the Stanford sailing program to falsely represent that three clients of Singer’s were elite sailors — and thus deserving of special admission to the private school, according to court documents.
Recruited athletes generally receive much more favorable consideration, even at elite campuses like Stanford.
The defense asked for leniency, arguing that the money Vandemoer received didn’t go into his pocket, but instead went to a fund that supported Stanford’s sailing program.
“It cannot be overstated: all parties agree that Mr. Vandemoer did not personally profit from the scheme,” defense lawyer Robert Fisher wrote in his sentencing memo to the court. “Mr. Singer sent Mr. Vandemoer money, and he consistently turned that money over to Stanford.”
And in court on Wednesday, Fisher reiterated that his client wasn’t motivated by personal monetary gain.
“My client did not benefit from these actions,” Fisher told the court. “This is a man whose heart was in the right place.”
Of the three students whose parents tried to bribe their way into Stanford, none them actually benefited from Singer and Vandemoer’s scheme.
The first one’s fake sailing application came too late in the recruiting season and “the student was later admitted to Stanford through the regular application process,” according to prosecutors.
The next two opted to go to Brown University and Vanderbilt University, despite Vandemoer’s help.
Vandemoer was fired by Stanford on March 12, hours after federal prosecutors unsealed indictments.
“Although Mr. Vandemoer’s conduct resulted in donations to the Stanford sailing team, Stanford views those funds as tainted,” according to a victim impact statement written to Judge Zobel by Stanford’s general counsel, Debra Zumwalt. “Stanford takes no position regarding any specific sentence that this Court may impose.”
The scandal gained international headlines when Loughlin and Huffman were indicted.
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, have pleaded not guilty to charges that they paid $500,000 to help their two daughters get into the University of Southern California.
The private Los Angeles school has vowed to take a closer look at its admissions policies in the scandal’s wake.
Huffman has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors said the “Desperate Housewives” actress spent $15,000 to have wrong answers corrected on daughter Sofia Grace Macy’s SAT. She will be sentenced on Sept. 13.
Ezra Kaplan reported from Boston and David K. Li from New York