Stan­ford coach up first for sen­tenc­ing

Pros­e­cu­tors want 13 months in prison; de­fense says pro­ba­tion is enough

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By John Wool­folk jwool­[email protected] ba­yare­anews­group.com

“The judge in this case wants to send a pow­er­ful mes­sage to would-be cheaters — you’re go­ing to pay the piper.” — Manny Me­drano, a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor in the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in Los Angeles

To­day, the Stan­ford sail­ing coach who pleaded guilty and was fired for his role in the mas­sive, na­tion­wide col­lege ad­mis­sions cheat­ing scan­dal will be­come the first of the 50 coun­selors, coaches and par­ents charged in the scheme to be sen­tenced.

And with the coun­try cap­ti­vated by a case that has left many seething at how Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties and Sil­i­con Val­ley ex­ec­u­tives al­legedly bribed their kids into elite col­leges, the burn­ing ques­tion will be whether John Van­de­moer gets sen­tenced to prison or, as his lawyer ar­gues, just pro­ba­tion.

A for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor who has closely fol­lowed the case said it’s hard to imagine that the for­mer coach will get no prison time for his in­volve­ment in the scan­dal that in­volved bribes to ath­letic coaches and test ad­min­is­tra­tors mas­ter­minded by a Cal­i­for­nia col­lege ad­mis­sions con­sul­tant to se­cure en­roll­ment to USC, Ge­orge­town, Yale and other se­lec­tive schools.

“The judge in this case wants to send a pow­er­ful mes­sage to would-be cheaters — you’re go­ing to pay the piper,” said Manny Me­drano, a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor in the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in Los Angeles who spe­cial­izes in white-col­lar crim­i­nal de­fense.

“I firmly believe he’s go­ing to fed­eral prison. If the judge grants pro­ba­tion to this de­fen­dant, the judge is set­ting the wrong ex­am­ple and tone for the rest of the case.”

Van­de­moer pleaded guilty on March 12 to con­spir­acy to com­mit rack­e­teer­ing, the day fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors an­nounced the Op­er­a­tion Var­sity Blues case, along with the scheme’s mas­ter­mind, Wil­liam “Rick” Singer, who is not sched­uled to be sen­tenced un­til Septem­ber.

Me­drano said the or­der in which de­fen­dants are sen­tenced largely re­flects their at­tor­neys’ sched­ules. Among those charged were 33 par­ents, in­clud­ing Hol­ly­wood ac­tresses Felic­ity Huff­man, who pleaded guilty, and Lori Lough­lin, who is con­test­ing the charges.

Pros­e­cu­tors in Boston, where the case was filed, in a sen­tenc­ing mem­o­ran­dum rec­om­mend that Van­de­moer be sen­tenced to 13 months in prison and a year of su­per­vised re­lease for his role in the con­spir­acy. They

noted that is less than the 18 months and year of su­per­vised re­lease Van­de­moer could have faced un­der his plea agree­ment and well short of the 37 to 46 months they say he could face un­der sen­tenc­ing guide­lines.

“Over the course of ap­prox­i­mately two years, the de­fen­dant — the for­mer head sail­ing coach at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity — par­tic­i­pated in a sweep­ing bribery, fraud and money laun­der­ing scheme that helped se­cure the ad­mis­sion of stu­dents to elite uni­ver­si­ties over other, more qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants,” pros­e­cu­tors wrote. “His ac­tions not only de­ceived and de­frauded the uni­ver­sity that em­ployed him, but also val­i­dated a na­tional cyn­i­cism over col­lege ad­mis­sions by help­ing wealthy and un­scrupu­lous ap­pli­cants en­joy an un­just ad­van­tage over those who ei­ther lack deep pock­ets

or are sim­ply un­will­ing to cheat to get ahead.”

But Van­de­moer’s lawyer, Robert Fisher, ar­gues in a sen­tenc­ing mem­o­ran­dum that the for­mer coach should re­ceive no prison time and only a pro­ba­tion­ary sen­tence.

He notes that un­like other coaches caught up in the caper, Van­de­moer did not per­son­ally re­ceive pay­ment as part of the scheme or se­cure a stu­dent’s fraud­u­lent ad­mis­sion.

Van­de­moer steered a to­tal of $770,000 from Singer to Stan­ford’s sail­ing pro­gram, for which he agreed to rec­om­mend en­roll­ment for stu­dents with lit­tle or no boat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as re­cruits to his team.

That in­cluded pay­ments of $110,000 and $160,000 on be­half of two stu­dents who chose to en­roll at other uni­ver­si­ties be­fore Van­de­moer could rec­om­mend them as re­cruits. It also in­cluded $500,000 as­so­ci­ated with a third stu­dent, the daugh­ter of a wealthy Chi­nese fam­ily who re­port­edly

paid Singer $6.5 mil­lion to se­cure her ad­mis­sion to Stan­ford.

Van­de­moer didn’t rec­om­mend that stu­dent for en­roll­ment as a sail­ing re­cruit due to the tim­ing of her ap­pli­ca­tion. But she was ad­mit­ted any­way based in part on an ap­pli­ca­tion Singer pre­pared that in­cluded fraud­u­lent sail­ing cre­den­tials. She has since been ex­pelled.

“Mr. Van­de­moer failed in one in­stance to live up to the high ex­pec­ta­tions he sets for him­self,” Fisher wrote in a mem­o­ran­dum to the court. “He fully ac­cepts re­spon­si­bil­ity for his mis­take. Mr. Van­de­moer is de­ter­mined to make amends for this mis­take, move on with his life, and con­tinue to pro­vide for his fam­ily.”

More than two dozen peo­ple — his wife, as­sis­tant coach, and for­mer sailors and their par­ents — wrote let­ters on Van­de­moer’s be­half urg­ing le­niency.

His wife, Molly, wrote that she wasn’t an­gry with her hus­band of 11 years over

the crime that has up­ended their lives and those of their two chil­dren, ages 3 and 1.

“I know he made a mis­take,” Molly Van­de­moer wrote. “I know it is ex­tremely costly to his liveli­hood, to our fam­ily, etc. But I know he will never do some­thing like this again. I know he will con­tinue to be an up­stand­ing mem­ber of so­ci­ety, and I know he will al­ways be the lov­ing, pa­tient, and hard work­ing man I met 13 years ago.”

His as­sis­tant and now in­terim coach, Clin­ton Hayes, wrote that Van­de­moer “truly cared that ev­ery one of our stu­dent ath­letes left Stan­ford a bet­ter per­son and pro­duc­tive mem­ber of so­ci­ety.” For­mer sailor Samantha Steele, who grad­u­ated in 2016, wrote that “in­tegrity al­ways mat­tered to John.”

Pros­e­cu­tors, how­ever, wrote that they al­ready took those fac­tors into ac­count in rec­om­mend­ing Van­de­moer serve 13 months in prison and bris­tled at the sug­ges­tion that he didn’t

ben­e­fit from in­volve­ment in the scheme and urged a “mean­ing­ful term of in­car­cer­a­tion.”

“He fun­neled the crim­i­nal pro­ceeds to ac­counts he con­trolled for the uni­ver­sity sail­ing pro­gram,” pros­e­cu­tors wrote. “He se­cretly sold re­cruit­ment slots in ex­change for pay­ments that were used to ben­e­fit the sail­ing pro­gram he ran, and so en­hanced his own ca­reer prospects.”

Stan­ford, in a “vic­tim im­pact state­ment” sub­mit­ted to the court, took no po­si­tion re­gard­ing any par­tic­u­lar sen­tence but said Van­de­moer’s ac­tions “un­der­mined pub­lic con­fi­dence in the col­lege ad­mis­sions sys­tem and re­flected neg­a­tively on Stan­ford and its hard-work­ing, hon­est stu­dent ath­letes.”

The uni­ver­sity said in an up­dated state­ment that it is “work­ing to re­view, and strengthen wher­ever nec­es­sary, its poli­cies and pro­cesses” and is “com­mit­ted to learn­ing from this deeply un­for­tu­nate episode

and en­sur­ing the in­tegrity of our pro­grams go­ing for­ward.”

Stan­ford said in the im­pact state­ment that the uni­ver­sity “does not wish to ben­e­fit in any way from Mr. Van­de­moer’s con­duct” and is in dis­cus­sions with the Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral about “an ap­pro­pri­ate way for those funds to be used for the pub­lic good.”

For­mer prose­cu­tor Me­drano said that with so many of the ac­cused fight­ing the charges, there is pres­sure on the court not to sig­nal that they have lit­tle to lose by hand­ing down a light sen­tence. Of the 50 charged, 21 have pleaded or agreed to plead guilty.

“The judge has to set an ex­am­ple for other de­fen­dants in this case,” Me­drano said. “If he gives a light sen­tence to some­one who pleaded guilty, oth­ers will fight this be­cause at the end of the day, they know it’ll be a light sen­tence.”

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