Expert test-taker pleads guilty in college admissions scam

An expert test-taker from Florida pleaded guilty Friday afternoon to fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges in the college admissions bribery scandal, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston.

Mark Riddell, 36, of Palmetto, Fla., entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Boston under the terms of a deal he made with prosecutors in February. Prosecutors say he participated in a scam orchestrated by college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer.

Court documents say Riddell conspired with Singer and others from 2011 to this year to facilitate cheating on the ACT and SAT admission tests, in an effort to help the children of wealthy parents secure admission to prominent universities. In some cases, prosecutors say, Riddell secretly took the exams instead of the students. In others, they say, he replaced student responses on exams with his own.

Typically, prosecutors say, Singer arranged for Riddell to be paid $10,000 per test. One instance detailed in a court document describes Riddell taking the ACT in a Houston hotel room in July 2018 on behalf of a student. Before taking the test, the document says, Riddell obtained a handwriting sample from the student so that he could imitate it when filling out the exam.

Riddell told Singer afterward that the resulting score would be a 35 out of a maximum 36 – a prediction that prosecutors said came true. Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other crimes.

Riddell has expressed remorse for his role in the scandal. He cooperated with investigators, court documents indicate, in hopes of obtaining leniency in sentencing. The crimes he acknowledged committing – conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering – carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison each and substantial fines.

Prosecutors are recommending incarceration on the “low end” of sentencing guidelines, according to documents, and the forfeiture of $239,449 that Riddell obtained through the scam. Sentencing was set for July 18.

Last month, Riddell apologized and said he was taking “full responsibility” for his actions.

“I want to communicate to everyone that I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions,” he said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post. “I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process.”

Earlier in the week, actress Felicity Huffman and a dozen other parents acknowledged they had used bribery and other fraud to help get their children into selective colleges, prosecutors announced. A coach also agreed to plead guilty.

Separately, actress Lori Loughlin, her husband and 14 other parents learned they were facing additional charges in the college admission scandal, including allegations of conspiracy to commit money laundering, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Those 16 parents had previously been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. Prosecutors say the parents sought to ease their children’s admission to selective colleges, in a scheme that used bribery to cheat on standardized exams and to falsely portray their children as athletic recruits.

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