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Three more guilty pleas in college admissions scandal

Posted at 6:10 PM, May 22, 2019

Three more parents pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday, the latest to fall in what authorities called the largest collegiate admissions scam ever prosecuted.

Gregory Abbott, founder and chairman of a food and beverage packaging company, his wife, Marcia Abbott, and Peter Jan Sartorio, the founder of a frozen burrito company, all went before a federal judge to formally enter their pleas to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Prosecutors said evidence included recorded phone calls and emails that show all three communicating directly with the mastermind of the scheme, William Rick Singer, to get their children guaranteed path into the prestigious college of their choice.

As part of their plea agreements, prosecutors are recommending the Abbotts serve 12 months and a day in prison, while Sartorio would serve between zero and six months.

Prosecutors said the Abbotts paid Singer a total of $125,000 in purported donations to his foundation to inflate their daughter's scores on both the ACT and SAT exams. Mark Riddell, who has also plead guilty for his role in the scam, corrected her test scores for the ACT in March and then for the SAT subject tests in October.

"Do you know how she did on her own," Gregory Abbott was heard on a recorded phone call asking, according to prosecutors. "Yeah, I do. She scored in the mid-600s," replied Singer.

The Abbott's daughter scored 800 on the math portion and 710 on the literature, both scores out of a possible 800, prosecutors said.

In court in Boston on Wednesday, the Abbotts they understood the scores would be corrected but did not know the details of how it would happen. "I didn't know the system. I didn't know how things were implemented," Marcia Abbott said.

Meanwhile, Sartorio, a packaged food entrepreneur, paid Singer $15,000 in cash to have Riddell correct his daughter's ACT exam in June 2017, prosecutors said.

After the exam, Singer, who was now working with the federal government, answered a call from Sartorio and told him the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), the charity that fronted as a means to collect payment for the scheme, was being audited.

Singer told Sartorio that he wouldn't show up in the alleged audit because he paid cash but wanted to "touch base" in case the IRS reached out to Sartorio.

"All I know is I paid bills that were sent to me, invoiced," Sartorio said, according to a criminal complaint.

Sartorio's attorney, Peter Levitt, told the judge, "Like the Abbotts, Mr. Sartorio didn't know the details or the information about payments Mr. Singer made to other people."

Attorneys for the Abbotts and Sartorio declined to comment after court.

On Tuesday, two other parents appeared in court to plead guilty.

Gordon Caplan, a former partner and co-chairman of international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, pleaded guilty to paying $75,000 as part of a scheme to cheat on his daughter's ACT.

Agustin Huneeus Jr., a California vineyard owner, pleaded guilty to paying $50,000 to cheat on his daughter's SAT exam and agreed to pay a total of $250,000 in bribes to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a purported water polo recruit, prosecutors said.

On Friday, Jane Buckingham, Robert Flaxman and Marjorie Klapper are set to plead guilty, according to the Justice Department.