Bogus test-taker gets prison, former USC water polo coach found guilty in college admissions scandal

Mark Riddell arrives at federal court in Boston
Associated Press/Charles Krupa
Mark Riddell arrives at federal court in Boston

BOSTON (AP) — A former Florida prep school administrator who took students’ college entrance exams for bribes was sentenced to four months in prison Friday, the same day a decorated former water polo coach at the University of Southern California was found guilty of fraud and bribery.

The sentence for Mark Riddell was what U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins’ office had recommended to the judge in court filings ahead of Friday’s hearing.

Riddell’s lawyers, in their own filing, had argued for one to two months in prison, saying he was neither the ringleader of the scheme nor a university insider, like the coaches and college administrators implicated.

In court, Riddell apologized to the students who lost out of college opportunities because of his “terrible decision.”

The Harvard graduate, who emerged as a key figure in the wide-ranging scandal, admitted to secretly taking the ACT and SAT in place of students, or correcting their answers.

Riddell, who had been cooperating with federal authorities in hopes of getting a lesser sentence, pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges in April 2019.

Riddell oversaw college entrance exam preparation at IMG Academy, a school in Bradenton, Florida that bills itself as the world’s largest sports academy.

Authorities say the admissions consultant at the center of the scheme, Rick Singer, bribed test administrators to allow Riddell to pretend to proctor the exams for students so he could cheat on the tests. Singer typically paid Riddell $10,000 per test to rig the scores, prosecutors said.

Riddell, who was fired from IMG Academy, made more than $200,000 by cheating on over 25 exams, prosecutors said.

Also Friday, a federal jury in Boston convicted former USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic of fraud and bribery.

Vavic, 60, who guided USC’s men’s and women’s water polo teams to 16 national championships, received about $250,000 in bribes for designating unqualified students as water polo recruits so they could attend the elite Los Angeles school, prosecutors said.

He declined to comment after the hearing and left court with his family.

Vavic’s defense argued he was just doing what he could to raise money for his dominant, championship-winning program as athletic officials at the school had demanded.

They also maintained never lied, never took a bribe and was a victim of USC’s desire to protect its reputation and cover up a “pervasive culture” of accepting wealthy students who could provide donations windfalls.

The university, which fired Vavic after his 2019 arrest, has stressed its admissions processes are “not on trial.”

Nearly 60 people, including wealthy and famous parents as well as college coaches and athletic administrators were charged in the Operation Varsity Blues case, including “Full House” star Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli.

Tags college admissions College admissions bribery scandal college admissions scandal Rick Singer Varsity Blues

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