By COLLIN BINKLEY | The Associated Press
BOSTON — A California woman has agreed to plead guilty after authorities said she paid $9,000 to have online classes taken on her son’s behalf to help him graduate from Georgetown University.
Karen Littlefair, 57, of Newport Beach, California, is the latest person to be charged in a sweeping college admissions scandal that has ensnared dozens of wealthy parents. An agreement with federal prosecutors announced Monday says Littlefair will plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The charge carries up to 20 years in prison, but prosecutors said they will recommend four months and a $9,500 fine. A plea hearing has not yet been scheduled.
A lawyer for Littlefair, Kenneth Julian, said his client has “taken the earliest opportunity to take responsibility for her conduct.” Julian declined to comment further.
Littlefair is accused of paying college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer to have one of his employee’s take online classes for her son in 2017 and 2018. Three of the courses were taken directly through Georgetown, prosecutors said, while one was taken online at Arizona State University and then transferred to Georgetown. She paid a total of about $9,200.
Singer previously pleaded guilty to several federal charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Littlefair’s son graduated from Georgetown in May 2018, authorities said. Georgetown officials declined to comment on any disciplinary action but said the school can revoke degrees in cases of major misconduct.
“When the university learns of a potential serious violation of the Honor System after a student has graduated, the Honor Council will investigate and adjudicate the case and may recommend sanctions up to and including the revocation of the student’s degree,” Georgetown spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak said in a statement.
School officials said they uncovered the misconduct in an internal review that began after authorities first announced the bribery case in March. Among those initially charged were former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who is accused of taking $2.7 million in bribes to designate at least 12 applicants as recruited athletes even if they didn’t play tennis. Ernst has pleaded not guilty.
Georgetown previously rescinded admissions to two applicants connected to the case. Officials are now implementing measures to prevent cheating and plagiarism in online courses, Dubyak said.
Littlefair paid to have online classes taken for her son during three academic terms starting in summer 2017, according to charging documents released Monday.
When one of the classes required a video conference with a professor, Littlefair asked Singer to provide a stand-in for her son since he was scheduled to be out of the country, according to the documents. Singer’s company agreed to have a “fellow male colleague” act as her son.
Littlefair later demanded a discount when Singer’s company billed her for a portion of the work, authorities said. She complained that her son received a C in one of the classes and said “the experience was a nightmare!” Singer refused to provide a discount, saying the process “was a nightmare for all.”
More than 50 people have been charged in the admissions scheme, which involves wealthy and famous parents accused of paying bribes to rig their children’s test scores or to get them admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes. A total of 20 parents have pleaded guilty, while another 15 are contesting the charges.