Former University of Southern California athletic official to plead guilty in admissions scandal

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A former senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California is expected to plead guilty on Friday to participating in a vast fraud and bribery scheme for wealthy parents’ children to gain admission to colleges as fake sports recruits.

Donna Heinel had been slated to face a federal jury in Boston later this month in the second trial to arise from the U.S. college admissions scandal. She instead will plead guilty to honest services wire fraud, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Prosecutors alleged she accepted bribes from the California college admissions consultant who masterminded the scheme, William “Rick” Singer, in exchange for designating his clients’ children as athletic recruits.

Her plea deal came after two fathers, former casino executive Gamal Aziz and private equity firm founder John Wilson, were convicted in the first trial in the scandal of trying to buy their children’s way into USC.

Under her plea deal, Heinel agreed not to appeal any prison sentence of 46 months of less and forfeit $160,000 US. A federal judge scheduled a plea hearing for Friday.

Her lawyer, Nina Marino, said she “did the honourable thing.”

Vancouver businessman David Sidoo leaves following his federal court hearing on March 15, 2019, in Boston, Mass. Sidoo pleaded not guilty to charges as part of a wide-ranging college admissions bribery scandal. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via The Associated Press)

Heinel is among 57 people who were charged in the “Operation Varsity Blues” investigation, which ensnared business executives and celebrities and exposed inequalities in U.S. higher education.

Singer pleaded guilty in 2019 to facilitating cheating on college entrance exams and funnelling money from the parents to corrupt coaches and university athletic officials to secure the admission of their children as phony athletes.

Forty-eight people have agreed to plead guilty, including Full House actress Lori Loughlin and Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman.

Prosecutors said Singer’s clients from 2014 to 2018 made more than $1.3 million US in payments to USC accounts that Heinel designated and professionally benefited from.

Canadians involved in scandal

Prosecutors said that beginning in 2017, she was also paid $20,000 US per month through a sham consulting agreement with Singer. In exchange, Heinel facilitated the admission of more than two dozen students.

The scandal also ensnared Canadians. In July 2020, David Sidoo, a Vancouver businessman and philanthropist was sentenced to three months in prison in a Boston court. Sidoo was found to have paid $200,000 US to have a professional test-writer use false credentials to impersonate his two sons to write their Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs).

And Surrey resident Xiaoning Sui was ordered to pay a $250,000 fine after she admitted to paying $400,000 to secure her son’s admission to the University of California, Los Angeles, through bribery as a purported soccer recruit.

Her plea agreement spared her from further jail time. Sui spent five months in jail in Spain, where she was arrested in September 2019.



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