Los Angeles

Coaches, Others Plead Not Guilty in College Admissions Scandal

The group was arraigned on a charge of racketeering conspiracy

A dozen athletic coaches, test administrators and others pleaded not guilty to participating in a nationwide college admissions scam. 

The defendants arrested in the Operation Varsity Blues investigation were arraigned Monday on a charge of racketeering conspiracy in Boston's federal court. 

The Moakley Federal Courthouse has been the epicenter of the scandal, and Monday marked the largest gathering of defendants at the court at the same time in the historic case.

All 12 defendants entered a not guilty plea.

They include former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, former UCLA men's soccer coach Jorge Salcedo and Wake Forest women's volleyball coach Bill Ferguson.

An attorney for Ferguson told reporters outside the courthouse that his client is innocent and "does not belong in this indictment."

"I can’t speak to what happened at any other school, but not at Wake Forest University," Ferguson's lawyer, Shaun Clark, said. "No one was admitted to Wake Forest who didn’t earn it — as a student and as an athlete. Bill Ferguson does not belong in this indictment."

Other defendents were Igor Dvorskiy, director of West Hollywood Prepatory School; Martin Fox, president of Private Tennis Academy & Camp in Houston; Donna Heinel, senior associate athletic director at USC; Laura Janke, former assistant coach of women's soccer at USC; Ali Khosroshahin, former head coach of women's soccer at USC; Steven Masera, accountant and financial officer for Edge College and Career Network and Key Worldwide Foundation; Mikaela Sanford, employee at Edge College and Career Network and Key Worldwide Foundation; Jovan Vavic, former water polo coach At USC; and Niki Williams, test administrator for the College Board and ACT.

The coaches are charged with accepting bribes in exchange for helping students get into school by pretending they were athletic recruits.

Dvorskiy is accused of helping wealthy parents cheat on college admissions tests. According to court documents, he was typically paid $10,000 per student to allegedly allow another person to take the test in the student's place. He would also reportedly change their answers on his own.

Prosecutors said Masera and Sanford worked with admissions consultant William Singer, the alleged ringleader of the bribery scheme, at his company Edge College & Career Network. 

Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges in federal court on March 12 and is cooperating with prosecutors. Singer was allegedly paid $25 million from about 800 families over several years. 

In exchange, Singer would secure students' admission to some of the country's top universities. The scheme involved falsifying scores on college entrance exams and creating fake athletic profiles to get the applicants in as student-athletes.

Fifty people, including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, have been indicted by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Boston in the far-reaching scheme that prosecutors said involved millions of dollars in bribes paid to athletic coaches and others. 

On Monday, Yale University announced that after its own investigation, it had decided to rescind the admission of a student linked to the national bribery scandal.

Parents charged with paying bribes, including Huffman and Loughlin, are due in court on April 3. Another 23 defendants are scheduled to appear in court Friday.

IMG Academy director Mark Riddell is expected to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering, court documents obtained by NBC News show. Riddell, a 2004 Harvard graduate, is accused of getting paid to take college entrance exams in place of students. He was paid $10,000 per test, according to prosecutors.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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