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Star attorney and Napa Valley vintner plead guilty in college admissions scandal

Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Six months ago, federal agents watched Gordon Caplan and his daughter walk into a West Hollywood school where a 36-year-old man would fix the girl's college entrance exam. Caplan, the co-chairman of an international law firm, envisioned his daughter attending an elite school -- maybe even his alma mater, Cornell University.

On Tuesday, after pleading guilty to fraud conspiracy and admitting he paid $75,000 to rig his daughter's ACT, Caplan walked out of federal court in Boston and apologized.

"I'm deeply ashamed. I'm terribly sorry. I'm really sorry to my daughter, who I love more than anything in the world," he told reporters. "She knew nothing about this -- hasn't even applied to college yet. But I'm also sorry to all the other kids who are out there in the admissions process, the college admissions process, and to all the parents that are helping and supporting them."

Agustin Huneeus Jr., a Napa Valley vintner, pleaded guilty to the same charge Tuesday. He acknowledged paying $100,000 -- and agreeing to pay $200,000 more -- to both inflate his daughter's SAT score and ensure she was admitted to the University of Southern California by passing her off as a top-notch water polo player.

Caplan and Huneeus brought to seven the total number of parents to plead guilty in an investigation that revealed some of the country's top schools were breached by a fraud perpetrated by Newport Beach college admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer.

Six more parents are scheduled to plead guilty this week.


Both Caplan and Huneeus pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Because Huneeus paid more to participate in Singer's scheme than Caplan, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts have recommended he face a heavier sentence: 15 months in prison and a fine of $95,000.

They recommend Caplan be sentenced at the low end of guidelines that call for eight to 14 months in prison, according to Caplan's plea agreement and federal sentencing guidelines. They recommend he be fined $40,000.

Caplan will be sentenced Oct. 3; Huneeus will be sentenced Oct. 4.

In pleading guilty to a felony, Caplan, who led Willkie Farr & Gallagher's private equity practice before his arrest in March, will be disbarred in New York. He has practiced law in the state since 1992 and had no previous disciplinary history, according to state records.


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