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Couple sentenced to 1 month in prison for paying to rig daughter's college entrance exams

Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

A couple who splits their time between New York City and Colorado were sentenced Tuesday to one month in prison each for conspiring to fix their daughter's college entrance exams, a scam they decided was worth the $125,000 cost if it boosted her prospects of getting into Duke University, her mother's alma mater.

In choosing to incarcerate Gregory and Marcia Abbott for a month, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani stopped short of the eight-month penalty prosecutors had requested. But she also wasn't swayed by appeals from the Abbotts and their attorneys to spare the couple prison altogether.

The Abbotts are the sixth and seventh parents to be sentenced in the college admissions scandal. Talwani will sentence another six parents in the next month.

In letters to the court and a memorandum filed by their attorneys, the Abbotts described what they portrayed as the uncommon circumstances that led to their corrupt deal with William "Rick" Singer, a Newport Beach, Calif., college admissions consultant who has admitted rigging dozens of SAT and ACT exams and misrepresenting his clients' children as standout collegiate recruits for sports they did not play.

In letters to the judge, the Abbotts said their daughter is severely ill with Lyme disease, a condition so grave it forced her to abandon a soloist role with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, withdraw from high school and enroll in an online curriculum, Laurel Springs School, a school with ties to Singer.

The Abbotts' daughter -- feverish, her muscles aching and sapped of energy -- was struggling on her standardized tests, Marcia and Gregory Abbott said in the letters.


Marcia Abbott said she was introduced to Singer through a friend who, aware of her family's "fraught circumstances," recommended Singer as an expert who "did much of his college counseling in exchange for donations to a charity for underserved schools and youth programs."

Singer did have a charity, although its true purpose was far from charitable. He used his Key Worldwide Foundation to launder five- and six-figure sums from his wealthy clients and, according to federal prosecutors in Massachusetts, parcel out bribes to a number of test proctors, college coaches and a university administrator.

"Rick could be curt and even rude," Marcia Abbott said, "but I was grateful to have someone to guide us."

After tutoring their daughter legitimately for a time, Singer proposed a scheme to guarantee she would receive a score of her parents' choosing, the Abbotts said. The girl would take the test at a private school in West Hollywood, Calif., where Singer would bribe an administrator to allow Mark Riddell, his Harvard-educated accomplice, to correct the girl's answers once she was done.


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