Rich Bay Area parents paid to grease kids’ college entry

The nationwide college-entry cheating scandal revealed in court documents Tuesday involved many wealthy Silicon Valley and Northern California families who allegedly paid to guarantee their kids’ entry to elite universities by falsifying test scores and athletic recruitment.

Accused participants included the wife of a former San Francisco 49ers pro football player, a doctor, the president of a Woodside real estate firm, the founder of a San Francisco private equity firm, a San Mateo food entrepreneur and the San Francisco owner of a Napa Valley winery. In many cases their children were unaware of their efforts to cheat on their behalf.

Charging documents unsealed in federal court revealed a scheme dating back to 2011 in which parents worked with a California man who allegedly set up a front charity to conceal bribes that paid for test cheating and falsified athletic recruitment.

That man, William Rick Singer of Sacramento and Long Beach, established for-profit college counseling and preparation company The Edge College & Career Network, LLC, also known as “The Key,” which incorporated in 2012. He also that year set up The Key Worldwide Foundation, a Newport Beach non-profit as a purported charity.

Court documents allege parent clients paid Singer $25 million to bribe coaches and
university administrators to designate the clients’ children as recruited athletes, as well as between $15,000 and $75,000 per test to falsify scores on standardized exams.

Todd and Diane Blake of Ross

Entrepreneur and investor Todd Blake and his wife, Diane, a married couple from the Marin County town of Ross, paid $200,000 to Key Worldwide Foundation and $50,000 to the University of Southern California Women’s Athletics department to get their daughter into that school.

Until 2018, Todd Blake was a trustee for nine year at the K-8 Ross School District, according to his Twitter account, where he also posted his excitement over his daughter’s enrollment at USC.

Diane Blake was a retail specialist and co-founder of Winston Retail Solutions who worked in the 1990s as director of retail marketing at Levi Strauss, according to her LinkedIn page. Todd and Diane didn’t not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Court documents allege that in early 2017 Diane Blake emailed Singer saying her daughter was interested in USC but the mother “assumed the school was ‘in the reach stretch category.’” The Key foundation allegedly falsified volleyball records for the girl, saying she had won several volleyball honors and played for a club team that had qualified for the junior nationals.

USC’s Senior Associate Athletic Director, Donna Heinel, allegedly used that to present the Blakes’ daughter as a volleyball recruit. The Blakes’ daughter is enrolled at USC but is not on the roster for the women’s volleyball team, according to the indictment. In a February call, Singer told Diane Blake government officials were looking into student athlete records at USC.

“Yikes. Right,” Diane Blake said in reply, adding that her daughter “doesn’t even know, you know?” about the alleged caper to get her into USC.

Manuel Henriquez of Atherton

Manuel Henriquez of Atherton, founder and CEO of a publicly traded specialty finance company
based in Palo Alto, California, and his wife, Elizabeth are accused of participating in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on four separate occasions on behalf of their two daughters. In addition, they are accused of bribing Georgetown University’s head tennis coach to designate their older daughter as a tennis recruit in order to facilitate her admission to the exclusive school.

The Henriquezes spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get two of their daughters into elite universities. They both attended a “private college preparatory in Belmont.”

Through Singer, the Henriquez’s paid $400,000 in May 2016 to bribe Georgetown University head tennis coach Gordie Ernst to accept their oldest daughter as a supposed recruit, the indictment says. While their daughter played tennis during her high school years, she fabricated that she was in the “Top 50” of the U.S. Tennis Association or that she played “club tennis” throughout high school.

“At her best, she appears to have ranked 207th in Northern California in the under-12 girls division, with an overall win/loss record of 2-8,” court documents noted.

Part of the scam included cheating on the SAT exam in 2015. Elizabeth Henriquez met with the proctor at 7:15 a.m outside the school.

“Unbeknownst to the school, he sat side-by-side with the daughter during the exam and provided her with answers to the exam questions, and after the exam, he ‘gloated’ with Henriquez and her daughter about the fact that they had cheated and gotten away with it,” court papers said.

The girl received a score of 1900 out of a possible 2400 — some 320 points higher than the best score she had legitimately earned. For that, the parents paid at least $25,000, according to court documents.

They participated in a similar scam the next year for their younger daughter, flying her to a “test site” in Houston for her ACT exam, according to the indictment.

The bribe fee was originally $75,000, but was waived when Manuel Henriquez promised to help one of Singer’s clients’ children get into Northeastern University, his alma mater, the indictment says.

Gregory and Amy Colburn of Palo Alto

Gregory and Amy Colburn, a married couple from Palo Alto, paid the Key foundation about $25,000 in cash and stock to help with their son’s college admission test. Gregory Colburn is a radiation oncologist who works at hospitals including O’Connor Hospital and VA Palo Alto Health Care System, according to the US News & World Report’s doctor database.

Court documents allege Singer had the Colburns’ son take the SAT last year at the West Hollywood Test Center where a co-conspirator was the supposed proctor, rather than at his Palo Alto high school.

In October, Singer placed a recorded call to Amy Colburn to tell her the IRS was auditing the Key foundation.

“Is that a problem,” she replied. “No,” Singer answered, adding that “I’m not going to mention to the IRS that someone else took the test for her son.

The Colburns did not respond to a request for comment.

Marci Palatella of Hillsborough

Court papers allege Hillsborough resident Marci Palatella, the owner of a liquor distribution company and the wife of former 49ers player Lou Palatella, payed $475,000 to the Key foundation and $100,000 to a University of Southern California athletic director to get her son into the school.

The conspirators arranged to correct answers on her son’s SAT test and falsely presented him as a star football player, a “long snapper” and “defensive line” member who had played on several championship teams.

Palatella told the scammer in an email that she was willing to pay “money, for the right environment,” the indictment said. “But he can never know,” she added.

Palatella did not respond to a request for comment.

Bruce and Davina Isackson of Hillsborough

Court papers allege Bruce Isackson, the president of Woodside-based real estate company WP Investments, and his wife Davina participated in admission scams related to all three of their children. Bruce Isackson allegedly paid the Key foundation more than $500,000 in stock, including $250,000 in Facebook stock, according to a criminal complaint. The Isacksons allegedly portrayed their older daughter as a soccer recruit for UCLA, and cheated on the ACT test for their younger daughter and falsely painted her as a rowing recruit to get her into USC.

Last year, the couple was caught on wiretap discussing preparations to game the test results for their third child.

“You know, I am so paranoid… I don’t like talking about it on the phone, you know,” Bruce said in one conversation included in the indictment. “If they get into the meat and potatoes, is this gonna be… the front page story?” he worried in another call.

The couple did not respond to a request for comment.


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