On March 5, 2019, federal prosecutors indicted Mikaela Sanford, former employee of Varsity Blues mastermind William “Rick” Singer, alleging a racketeering conspiracy between Sanford, two proctors for the ACT and SAT exams, and 12 coaches and officials from Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Los Angeles and Wake Forest University. On August 7, 2020, Sanford agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, becoming the 7th individual to plead guilty to the charge.
Five days later, US District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton sentenced Morrie Tobin – the man who tipped off federal prosecutors to the Varsity Blues college admissions scheme – for his role in two unrelated securities fraud schemes. According to federal prosecutors, Tobin alerted the government – during the government’s investigation into Tobin for securities fraud – that former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith sought a bribe in exchange for getting Tobin’s daughter into Yale. Although federal prosecutors did not charge Tobin in connection with the Varsity Blues scheme, Tobin’s sentencing hearing confirmed his identity as the Varsity Blues tipster in open court for the first time.
Mikaela Sanford’s Conduct
Sanford previously worked for Edge College & Career Network, LLC and the Key Worldwide Foundation – two organizations Singer founded, operated, and used to launder payments from wealthy clients to coaches, test proctors, and his employees as bribes. According to prosecutors, Sanford took online classes for students so that the students could submit the grades Sanford earned in their names as part of their application packages to college and universities. Prosecutors also alleged that Sanford helped fabricate athletic “profiles” and other documents to bolster students’ college applications by making the students appear to be highly successful high school athletes when, in fact, they were not.
Mikaela Sanford’s Plea Agreement
Prosecutors recommended that Sanford serve a prison term at the “low end” of a 15 to 21-month range, undergo 12-months of supervised release, and pay a $67,000 forfeiture penalty, a fine, and restitution. Although the maximum penalty for the charge of racketeering conspiracy carries a 20 year prison sentence, three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture, and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater; prosecutors ultimately determined that Sanford’s “minor” participation in the charged criminal activity and “timely” acceptance of responsibility for the charged crime warranted a significantly reduced sentence.
Morrie Tobin’s Cooperation and Assistance with Varsity Blues Scheme
On December 3, 2018, Tobin agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and “one count of securities fraud, and aiding abetting the same.” Although the maximum penalty for counts one and two carry, in part, prison terms of 5 and 20 years respectively, prosecutors reasoned that Tobin’s “cooperation and substantial assistance in the prosecution” of Tobin’s securities fraud case and the Varsity Blues scheme warranted a sentence of 5 years of probation. Judge Gorton ultimately sentenced Tobin to a 12-month and one day prison term, noting that Tobin’s cooperation and assistance entitled him to a “large and unprecedented” sentence reduction from the “otherwise applicable guideline sentence.” Judge Gorton also noted that Tobin’s sentence marked the largest sentence reduction he had ever granted to a defendant.
Tobin’s cooperation and assistance in the Varsity Blues scandal has led to Sanford becoming the fourth individual to plead guilty to the conspiracy to commit racketeering charge within the last two months. Additional plea deals are expected in light of the government’s willingness to recommend significantly reduced sentences based, in part, on a defendant’s “timely” acceptance of responsibility for the charged crime.
The trial date for the remaining five defendants charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering has not been set, but the parties are scheduled for an interim status conference with US Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelly on November 10, 2020. Sanford’s plea hearing is scheduled for September 17, 2020.
The first Varsity Blues trial (involving defendants Gamal Abdelaziz, John Wilson, Homayoun Zadeh, and Robert Zangrillo) has been delayed to February 22, 2021. Steptoe will continue to monitor and provide updates regarding developments in this matter.
 See Indictment, United States v. Ernst et al., No. 19-10081-IT (D. Mass. Mar. 05, 2019), ECF No. 1; Superseding Indictment, United States v. Ernst et al., No. 19-10081-IT (D. Mass. Oct. 22, 2019), ECF No. 272.
 See Sanford Plea Agreement, United States v. Ernst et al., No. 19-10081-IT (D. Mass. Aug 7, 2020), ECF No. 494-1.
 Department of Justice, Investigations of College Admissions and Testing Bribery Scheme, https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/investigations-college-admissions-and-testing-bribery-scheme (last accessed Aug. 11, 2020).
 See Sentencing Hearing, United States v. Tobin et al., No. 18-10444-NMG (D. Mass. Aug. 12, 2020), ECF No. 91.
 See Chris Villani, “Varsity Blues” Tipster Gets 1 Year For Stock Schemes, Law360 (Aug. 12, 2020, 4:29 PM), https://www.law360.com/whitecollar/articles/1300588.
 Superseding Indictment, Ernst et al., No. 19-10081-IT, at 2, 4.
 Id. at 11.
 See Sanford Plea Agreement, Ernst et al., No. 19-10081-IT, at 2.
 Id. at 1.
 Id. at 2.
 See Tobin Plea Agreement at 3, United States v. Tobin et al., No. 18-10444-NMG (D. Mass. Dec. 3, 2018), ECF No. 7.
 Id. at 2-3.
 Department of Justice, Investigations of College Admissions and Testing Bribery Scheme, https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/investigations-college-admissions-and-testing-bribery-scheme (last accessed Aug. 16, 2020).
 See Assent to Motion to Continue October 2020 Trial, United States v. Sidoo et al., No. 19-10080-NMG (D. Mass. Aug 6, 2020), ECF 1454.