BOSTON (Reuters) - A former Stanford University sailing coach avoided prison on Wednesday in the first sentencing to result from the U.S. college admissions scandal after admitting he took bribes to help children of wealthy parents gain admission to the school.
John Vandemoer, 41, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel in Boston to six months of home confinement, rejecting prosecutors’ request for a 13-month prison term after he pleaded guilty in March to racketeering conspiracy.
Vandemoer is among 50 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, who were charged in March with participating in a vast scheme overseen by California college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer.
Prosecutors said parents paid Singer more than $25 million to bribe coaches at universities, including Stanford, Yale and the University of Southern California, to help their children gain admission as fake athletic recruits.
Parents also paid Singer, who pleaded guilty in March, to help rig college entrance exams, prosecutors allege.
Thirty-three parents have been charged, including former “Desperate Housewives” star Huffman, who pleaded guilty in May, and “Full House” actress Loughlin, who has pleaded not guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen urged Zobel to avoid giving Vandemoer a “slap on the wrist,” saying the case had undermined public confidence in the fairness of college admissions.
“The court needs to send a powerful message to would-be cheaters that such criminal conduct will not be tolerated,” he said.
But Zobel instead sentenced the former coach to one day of prison, which was deemed already served, followed by two years of supervised release, the first six months of which he will serve in home confinement. Zobel also imposed a $10,000 fine.
She noted that unlike the other coaches, Vandemoer did not personally pocket any bribes, instead directing money from Singer to Stanford’s sailing programme, which prosecutors said enhanced his career prospects.
“The fact that, as best I understand it, he was the least culpable of all the coaches certainly says something about what the sentence should be,” Zobel said.
Prosecutors said that in 2017, Singer paid $110,000 to the sailing programme to have Vandemoer designate a client’s child as a sailing recruit.
When that student decided to attend another school, Vandemoer agreed to use the same recruiting spot for a different child in exchange for $500,000, prosecutors said. That student also decided against attending Stanford.
California-based Stanford fired Vandemoer in March. In court, he apologised for his actions, saying: “I made a terrible mistake.”
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Bill Berkrot