Mother Who Paid $6.5 Million to College Scammer Says She Was Duped

Mrs. Zhao said her daughter was admitted into Stanford "through ordinary channels" and was asked to make a donation to the school a few weeks later

The mother of a Chinese family that made the largest payment to the ringleader of the college admissions scandal said she was led to believe the money would go toward helping underprivileged students and that her daughter was already accepted into Stanford University three weeks before the $6.5 million donation.

In a statement released by a Hong Kong lawyer representing the family, the the woman, identified as "Mrs. Zhao," said her daughter Yusi Zhao was admitted into Stanford "through ordinary channels" in March 2017 and was asked to make a donation to the school a few weeks later.

The statement said the Beijing-based family consulted Rick Singer for advice on getting into prestigious U.S. universities and was "surprised" to learn her daughter was accepted into the school.

Zhao said Singer asked her to make a donation to the university through his foundation and claimed the consultant told her the money was "for the salaries of academic staff, scholarships, athletics programs and helping those students who otherwise will not be able to afford to attend Stanford," according to the letter.

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"Since the matters concerning Mr. Singer and his foundation have been widely reported, Mrs. Zhao has come to realize she has been misled, her generosity has been taken advantage of, and her daughter has fallen victim to the scam," said the statement from attorney Vincent W.C. Law. "Both Mrs. Zhao and Yusi have been shocked and deeply disturbed by what have transpired,"

Singer's lawyer did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

Zhao is not among the 33 prominent parents who have been charged in the massive scheme, which authorities say involved bribing athletic coaches at elite universities and rigging standardized test scores, and it's unclear whether prosecutors are still investigating the family. Authorities have suggested in court documents that more charges are coming.

Singer, who pleaded guilty in March, used his sham charity to funnel bribes to coaches and test administrators to help the children of privileged parents get into selective universities across the country, prosecutors say.

Prominent parents charged in the case include actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin's fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.

Zhao said she -- "like many families from Asia" -- was not familiar with the college admissions process in the U.S. and was led to believe that Singer's charity was legitimate. She said Singer's consulting firm "did not guarantee admission into any particular school."

"The donation is in the same nature as those that many affluent parents have been doing openly to prestigious universities," her attorney's statement said.

Standford said last month that it had expelled a student connected to the bribery scandal who had lied about her sailing credentials in her application. The school said Thursday that it couldn't confirm whether the student whose family paid $6.5 million is the same student who was expelled.

University officials had previously said the student was admitted without the recommendation of former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes in exchange for helping students get into the elite university.

The school said a $500,000 contribution to the sailing program was made several months after the student was admitted.

Stanford said it wasn't aware of the $6.5 million payment to Singer until it was reported by the media and did not receive that amount of money from Singer or from the family working with the consultant.

Huffman, who starred in the ABC series "Desperate Housewives," is among 14 parents who have agreed to plead guilty in the case. She will appear in Boston federal court on May 13 to admit to charges that she paid $15,000 to have a proctor correct the answers on her daughter's SAT.

Loughlin and Giannulli, who are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into the University of Southern California, are among 19 parents still fighting the charges. They have pleaded not guilty and have not publicly commented on the allegations.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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