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College-Admissions Mastermind Tried to Recruit Seven Stanford Coaches, School Says


College-Admissions Mastermind Tried to Recruit Seven Stanford Coaches, School Says

William “Rick” Singer

approached seven Stanford University athletic coaches in his efforts to get students admitted as potential recruits over the past decade, though only one coach took the bait and endorsed applicants in exchange for money, the university said.

The university vowed to improve internal controls, including creating written policies regarding fundraising while recruiting athletes and requirements around more carefully vetting donations, Stanford President

Marc Tessier-Lavigne

wrote in a letter to the school community Tuesday. A recent review showed no evidence of additional fraud, the school said.

The findings illustrated further how Mr. Singer sought to use a network of college coaches to further his nationwide bribery and cheating operation, and exploit the vast advantage athletes have in admissions.

After a federal investigation, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, was unveiled in March, Stanford hired law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP to conduct a review of its policies and practices related to athletic admissions. The firm interviewed more than 55 people and reviewed more than 35,000 records.

Though Mr. Singer approached seven coaches, directly or indirectly, regarding recruiting prospects, Stanford said there was no formalized way for concerns about him to be elevated or addressed or to put others on guard about his pitch. Dr. Tessier-Lavigne said the school’s admissions system, in which athletic recruits are reviewed by the admissions office and not just the athletic department, “appears to have made it harder for Singer to manipulate the process.”

John Vandemoer,

who served as Stanford’s sailing coach until March, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. He admitted to trying to flag two of Mr. Singer’s clients as recruited athletes in exchange for money directed to the sailing program, though neither was accepted to the school. Another client of Mr. Singer’s was accepted, though not as a sailing recruit; her application contained false information about sailing and her admission was later rescinded. Mr. Vandemoer was sentenced in June to two years of supervised release, including six months home confinement, and a $10,000 fine.

Stanford said it would now adopt written policies codifying its approach to donations and athletic recruits, emphasizing its stance that admission “cannot be bought, and no donor should ever be under the impression that it can.” It will also require development officers to verify the sources and purposes of “significant” donations to the athletic department, and clarify that fundraising results aren’t considered a part of a coach’s performance evaluation.

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Federal prosecutors charged dozens of people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, in an alleged scheme to help students get admitted to elite colleges under false pretenses. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling detailed the charges at a press conference. Photo: AP

Mr. Vandemoer said in a June interview with The Wall Street Journal that he felt he was under pressure to raise money for the sailing program.

“If I could take the development piece and get recruits at the same time that I thought were going to help my team, I thought that was a no-brainer,” he said at the time. “Now, obviously, that was too good to be true, and I was misguided in all of that.”

Stanford coaches must also now flag to admissions and the development office any case in which a recruit was flagged to them by a third-party recruiter or consultant.

“Taken together, these steps provide for clearer policies, more training, fuller communication and stronger vetting that will serve as a bulwark against fraudulent efforts in the future,” Dr. Tessier-Lavigne said. “It is imperative that Stanford have the necessary safeguards in place to engender trust and confidence in the integrity of our programs.”

Mr. Vandemoer was among those interviewed in the Simpson Thacher investigation. His attorney,

Robert Fisher

of Nixon Peabody LLP, commended Stanford for its new policies.

“John clearly made a mistake, but if these remedies had been in place then, it’s likely there would have been a different outcome for John and he would have never gotten involved with Singer,” he said.

The school also said it plans to redistribute the $770,000 it received from Mr. Singer’s foundation, directing it to a group or groups that support low-income high-school students seeking financial support and help with college preparation.

Write to Melissa Korn at

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