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Mother who paid $6.5M to college scammer says she was duped

May 3, 2019
FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 file photo, a Stanford University student walks in front of Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif. A mother who says she paid the consultant at the center of the sweeping college admissions bribery scheme $6.5 million says she was duped into believing the money would help underprivileged students. A statement was released Thursday, May 2, 2019 by a Hong Kong lawyer who says he represents the mother. The statement says the consultant, Rick Singer, asked the mother to make a donation through his foundation to Stanford University after her daughter was admitted to the school. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

BOSTON (AP) — A mother said Thursday that she paid the consultant at the center of the sweeping college admissions bribery scheme $6.5 million after her daughter got into Stanford University because she was led to believe the money would go toward helping underprivileged students.

Massachusetts’ top federal prosecutor said in March that parents shelled out as much as $6.5 million in the scheme, which authorities say involved bribing athletic coaches at elite universities and rigging standardized test scores. But details about the family that paid the huge sum remained a mystery until this week.

A statement released by a Hong Kong lawyer who says he represents the mother said she gave the money to Rick Singer’s foundation in 2017 after her family used his consulting services and her daughter got into the school. The attorney identified the mother only as Mrs. Zhao and would not provide her full name.

The mother said Singer had asked her to make the donation and told her that it would support academic staff salaries, scholarships, athletic programs and “helping those students who otherwise will not be able to afford to attend Stanford.”

“Since the matters concerning Mr. Singer and his foundation have been widely reported, Mrs. Zhao has come to realize she has been misled, her generosity has been taken advantage of, and her daughter has fallen victim to the scam,” said the statement from Vincent W.C. Law, a partner at Mayer Brown.

An email was sent to a lawyer for Singer on Thursday.

The mother is not among the 33 prominent parents who have been charged in the case and it’s unclear whether prosecutors are still investigating the family. Authorities have suggested in court documents that more charges are coming.

Singer, who pleaded guilty in March, used his sham charity to funnel bribes to coaches and test administrators to help the children of privileged parents get into selective universities across the country, prosecutors say.

Prominent parents charged in the case include actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.

The mother said she — “like many families from Asia” — was not familiar with the college admissions process in the U.S. and was led to believe that Singer’s charity was legitimate. She said Singer’s consulting firm “did not guarantee admission into any particular school.”

“The donation is in the same nature as those that many affluent parents have been doing openly to prestigious universities,” her attorney’s statement said.

Stanford said last month that it had expelled a student connected to the bribery scandal who had lied about her sailing credentials in her application. The school said Thursday that it couldn’t confirm whether the student whose family paid $6.5 million is the same student who was expelled.

University officials had previously said the student was admitted without the recommendation of former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes in exchange for helping students get into the elite university.

The school said a $500,000 contribution to the sailing program was made several months after the student was admitted.

Stanford said it wasn’t aware of the $6.5 million payment to Singer until it was reported by the media and did not receive that amount of money from Singer or from the family working with the consultant.

Huffman, who starred in the ABC series “Desperate Housewives,” is among 14 parents who have agreed to plead guilty in the case. She will appear in Boston federal court on May 13 to admit to charges that she paid $15,000 to have a proctor correct the answers on her daughter’s SAT.

Loughlin and Giannulli, who are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into the University of Southern California, are among 19 parents still fighting the charges. They have pleaded not guilty and have not publicly commented on the allegations.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkinricher

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