By Gregory A. Brower, a Shareholder with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP in Las Vegas, NV and Washington, DC, with Stanley L. Garnett, a Shareholder in the firm’s Denver, CO office. Mr. Brower also serves on WLF Legal Policy Advisory Board and is the WLF Legal Pulse’s Featured Expert Contributor, White Collar Crime and Corporate Compliance.
The college admissions bribery scandal that resulted in federal criminal charges against dozens of parents, coaches, school administrators and others (and on which we’ve written about previously here) saw its first sentencing this week. Former Stanford sailing team coach John Vandemoer was sentenced to one day in prison, six months of home confinement, and a $10,000 fine after pleading guilty to a single RICO conspiracy count. With credit for time served prior to his release from custody following arrest, Vandemoer will actually serve no time in prison.
U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobe essentially agreed with Vandemoer’s counsel’s sentencing recommendation while rejecting the government’s request for a less-than-guidelines recommended 13-month prison term. Prosecutors had argued that this first sentence in the investigation dubbed “Varsity Blues” would set the tone for other sentences yet to be imposed on other defendants, most of whom have also pled guilty. At one point during the sentencing hearing, Judge Zobe referenced the RICO statute and suggested it is a “heavy statute” passed to “combat La Cosa Nostra,” and was apparently not convinced that there was any actual loss or victim of Vandemoer’s criminal conduct.
This particular case is unique among the some 50 charged for at least two reasons. First, while Vandemoer did agree to falsely describe three applicants as sailing recruits in exchange for three payments totaling more than $500,000 from the parents of three applicants, none of the three were actually admitted to Stanford as a result of the scheme designed by admitted mastermind William Rick Singer. One of the falsified applications was submitted too late for consideration, although that student apparently was later admitted through the regular process. The two other applicants helped by Vandemoer decided to enroll in other schools.
Second, it was undisputed that Vandemoer did not personally profit from the payments, with the money going, instead, to the Stanford sailing program. Indeed, Judge Zobe said at the sentencing hearing that of all the people involved in the scandal, she had not heard of anyone who was “less culpable.” Another unusual and interesting aspect of this sentencing was the fact that the government actually argued that the pre-sentence report prepared by U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services improperly calculated Vandemoer’s sentencing guidelines number by concluding that there was “no victim of this offense.” Prosecutors argued this defied common sense.
As nearly all of the charged defendants have now pled guilty and await sentencing, it will be very interesting to see if this first sentence is a bellwether for the others, or if the unique facts of this first defendant’s offenses make this one an outlier.