Georgetown Families Cheated on SATs, Paid Bribes Through Family Foundations, Indictments Say - NBC4 Washington

Georgetown Families Cheated on SATs, Paid Bribes Through Family Foundations, Indictments Say

Families allegedly hired private proctors to correct applicants' SAT exams before submitting them and wrote off bribes as charitable donations from their families' foundations

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    A former Georgetown University tennis coach who once gave lessons to the Obamas is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from wealthy parents to get their children admitted to the elite school. News4's Mark Segraves reports. (Published Tuesday, March 12, 2019)

    Four families with students who applied to Georgetown University are among the dozens of people nationwide who stand accused of using bribes to secure admission for their children to elite colleges. 

    The stunning stories of false athletic records, cheating on the SAT and hundred-thousand dollar bribes were all revealed in a federal indictment Tuesday. Thirty-three parents —  including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — allegedly used wealth and influence to get their children into top schools. 

    At Georgetown, families allegedly hired private proctors to correct applicants' SAT exams before submitting them and wrote off bribes as charitable donations from their families' foundations. 

    These four families are accused of funnelling more than $2.7 million to former Georgetown tennis coach Gordie Ernst, and in at least two cases, the students allegedly played a role in the schemes. 

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    Here's a breakdown of how it all allegedly happened at Georgetown, where this reporter is a student. 

    Elizabeth and Manuel Henriquez

    The Henriquez family of Atherton, California, is accused of participating in the college entrance exam cheating scheme and of bribing Ernst to secure a spot for their older daughter as a tennis recruit.

    An affidavit filed with the U.S Attorney for the District of Massachusetts outlines how Elizabeth Henriquez and Manuel Henriquez — who was the CEO of a finance company in Northern California — paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to William Singer, a private college admissions adviser. Singer allegedly helped their daughter cheat on the SAT entrance exam by hiring a private proctor, and conspired to bribe Ernst.

    Their daughter was not named as a defendant and is not charged, though she is accused of bragging to the private proctor about getting away with cheating on the SAT.

    Starting in 2015, the family paid $25,000 to hire and fly a proctor to San Francisco to administer the exam, the affidavit says. The proctor administered the exam on Oct. 3.

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    “Unbeknownst to the school, he sat side-by-side with the daughter during the exam and provided her with answers to the exam questions,” the affidavit says. “After the exam, he ‘gloated’ with Elizabeth Henriquez and her daughter about the fact that they had cheated and gotten away with it.”

    Henriquez’s daughter ended up scoring 1900 out of 2400 possible points, improving her initial score by 320 points, the document says.

    To ensure their child would get into Georgetown, the Henriquezes allegedly agreed to bribe Ernst to label their older daughter as a tennis recruit, and made edits to her college application essay to make it sound like she had played tennis all throughout high school.

    The final application included lines like “[B]eing a part of Georgetown women’s tennis team has always been a dream of mine. For years I have spent three–four hours a day grinding out on and off court workouts with the hopes of becoming successful enough to play college tennis especially at Georgetown.”

    The application also suggested she had played “club tennis” in high school and said she held a “Top 50 ranking” in the United States Tennis Association Junior Girls Tennis.

    The FBI agent providing the affidavit noted that “at her best, she appears to have ranked 207th in Northern California in the under-12 girls division, with an overall win/loss record of 2-8.”

    In 2016, the Henriquezes used their family trust to pay the sham foundation Singer had set up, called the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), $400,000, and that charity paid Ernst $950,000 to secure their daughter’s admission to Georgetown, according to the FBI.

    The Henriquezes are alleged to have gone through a similar process to get their younger daughter into Northeastern University.

    Elisabeth Kimmel

    Kimmel also is accused of participating in the college recruitment scheme at Georgetown. Her daughter’s application stated that she was a “ranked player” in the Southern California Junior Tennis program, though the United States Tennis Association had no record of her participating.

    Her daughter went through the Georgetown application process and benefited from Ernst’s recommendation. She eventually enrolled in the fall of 2013 and graduated in May 2017.

    Kimmel is accused of paying $275,000 to Singer’s KWF foundation through three installments, and then recording the payments as charitable donations in her own foundation’s tax returns in 2013 and 2014.

    Kimmel is alleged to have gone through a similar process to get her son into the University of Southern California.

    Douglas Hodge

    Hodge, a resident of Laguna Beach, California, was the CEO of an investment company in Southern California. He is accused of using bribes to get his children into USC, though he also tried to get his daughter into Georgetown in 2008.

    His oldest daughter “had a great experience at Georgetown,” Hodge is alleged to have said, though Singer told him his younger daughter had only a 50 percent chance “at best” of getting into the school.

    That oldest daughter was admitted to Georgetown based on Enst’s recommendation, but she never played tennis while at the school.

    Stephen Semprevivo

    Semprevivo, of Los Angeles, is accused of paying bribes to Ernst to secure a spot for his son as a Georgetown tennis recruit.

    The affidavit alleges that Semprevivo, his spouse and their son, a current Georgetown student, received an email from Singer outlining Semprevivo’s son’s supposed summer tennis training and intent to play tennis for Georgetown.

    Semprevivo’s son sent the email to Ernst along with his high school transcript and SAT scores. Ernst then passed that note along to the Georgetown admissions office.

    Semprevivo’s son then received an essay for his application that outlined his supposed experience playing tennis and achievements as a “CIF Scholar Athlete” and “Academic All American," the affidavit said. However, prosecutors say he did not reference tennis in other college applications, and the United States Tennis Association did not have records for Semprevivo’s son.

    His son was accepted and enrolled at Georgetown, where he has not joined the tennis team.

    Semprevivo supposedly sent $400,000 to Singer’s KWF charity, which in turn paid Ernst $950,000 for Semprevivo’s son’s admission.

    Singer, who pleaded guilty Tuesday and is a cooperating witness in the FBI's investigation, was charged with racketeering conspiracy and other crimes as the ringleader of the operation. The investigation that uncovered the sprawling network of corruption was dubbed Operation Varsity Blues and led to charges against dozens of people. 

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