View Original Notice ? Probation for California admissions scandal parents who aided FBI
A Hillsborough, California, couple who paid $600,000 for a corrupt college admissions consultant to get their daughters admitted to UCLA and USC with phony athletic profiles and test scores avoided prison Tuesday for quickly pleading guilty and helping prosecutors nail dozens of others in the Varsity Blues admissions scandal.
Real estate magnate Bruce Isackson and his wife Davina were given a year of probation, 250 hours of community service and fines totaling $8,500 at their Tuesday sentencing at U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, where the Varsity Blues cases originated.
Prosecutors credited evidence and testimony they got from the Isacksons with helping to convict dozens of other rich parents, coaches and other co-conspirators in the sweeping national college admissions case. They said the Isacksons’ should serve no more time behind bars than what they already spent after their 2019 arrests before posting $1 million bond.
“Alone among the parents charged in this sprawling conspiracy, they cooperated promptly with the government’s investigation and provided substantial assistance in its prosecution of their co-conspirators,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
UCLA in a sentencing memorandum took no position on any specific sentence but said the case caused significant harm.
“The conduct of Bruce and Davina Isackson struck at the integrity of UC’s merit-based admissions process and the interests of the University and the public it serves,” wrote UCLA Vice-Provost Youlonda Copeland-Morgan. “If criminal fraud in the admissions process is not sufficiently punished, it will be undeterred.”
The bombshell Varsity Blues case announced in March 2019 centered around the work of California-based college consultant William “Rick” Singer and his efforts to get the unexceptional progeny of the wealthy into elite universities through fraudulent test scores and athletic profiles.
Parents charged in the case — many of them from the Bay Area — included Wall Street financiers, one from Marin County linked to U2 frontman Bono, a Napa vintner, a Palo Alto doctor, a Las Vegas casino mogul, a San Diego television executive and Bay Area food and beverage tycoons. TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, and Loughlin’s fashion-designer husband, also were charged, as were university athletic officials, among them Stanford’s former sailing coach, and corrupt test proctors.
Singer and nearly all the rest have since pleaded guilty. Two parents and a coach took their case to trial this year where they were convicted by juries. Of the convicted parents, nearly all received prison sentences, the longest nine months for Douglas Hodge, former CEO of PIMCO, the world’s largest bond manager.
Prosecutors have sought longer sentences for the two parents convicted at trial — 15 months for financier John Wilson and a year for casino magnate Gamal Abdelaziz — who are appealing their convictions at trial in which Bruce Isackson was a star witness.
Very few convicted parents avoided prison after sentencing. One was Peter Jan Sartorio, a Menlo Park specialty food entrepreneur, who was the first to agree to plead guilty for paying $15,000 to have his daughter’s ACT exam score inflated without her knowledge. He got a year of probation and fines. Another was Xiaoning Sui, a Chinese parent credited for time served and fined.
The Isacksons entered guilty pleas on May 1, 2019. They were not only the first parents to do so but their public announcement that they would cooperate with investigators signaled the futility of fighting the charges to other couples, prosecutors said.
Bruce Isackson, 65, founded WP Investments, a Woodside commercial real estate investment, development and commercial property management company. He and his wife have four children.
Davina Isackson was introduced to Singer by Elizabeth Henriquez, wife of Atherton financier Manuel Henriquez, who both pleaded guilty in October 2019. In 2020 she was sentenced to seven months and he to six months in prison.
According to prosecutors, the Isacksons worked with Singer to get their older daughter into UCLA as a soccer recruit in 2015, even though she did not play at a collegiate level. Two years later, they tapped Singer again to get their younger daughter into the University of Southern California by inflating her test scores and presenting her as a competitive rower though she had no crew experience. They also talked to Singer about a similar deal for their younger son.
The Isacksons sold more than 2,100 Facebook shares to funnel $600,000 through Singer’s sham charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, purportedly to help educate the poor. Singer used the money instead to pay corrupt test proctors and coaches involved in the scheme.
As the caper began to unravel, Bruce Isackson told Singer in a 2018 recorded conversation that he was “paranoid” and didn’t want to discuss it on the phone, dreading the “embarrassment” should it be exposed.
“It would just be — Yeah. Ugh,” Isackson said. The conviction on charges including money laundering forced Isackson to step down from the WP Investments partnership.
At the trial for Wilson and Abdelaziz, Isackson testified that Singer “made us feel that we needed him more than he needed us, even though we were paying him for his services,” according to Bloomberg, and that he continued working with him after Singer threatened to torpedo their efforts to work a bribery deal without him.
Lawyers for Wilson and Abdelaziz got Isackson to admit on the stand he’d never met the casino mogul and had only met Wilson once at a fundraiser. Abdelaziz’ lawyer asked if he’d “pretty much do anything to stay out of prison?”
In his statement to the judge, Isackson said he’s been wracked by guilt over all the kids who “would have gotten into their dream schools yet had their spots stolen” by his actions.
His wife’s lawyers said that as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor she became an “overprotective mother” whose anxieties for her children led her down the dark path of cheating.
“My irrational brain had irreversibly convinced me that losing my most cherished kids was always a possibility,” Davina Isackson wrote to the judge. “As a result, I never really gave them the opportunity to fall. I was always there to catch them in midair.”