BOSTON (AP/WWSB) — If a judge approves a plea agreement, a former IMG director will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection to the college admissions scandal.
If the plea agreement is approved, 36-year-old Mark Riddell of Palmetto could face substantial penalty. For both charges, he could face up to 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and forfeiture of any profits from the alleged scheme, which is around $450,000.
However, prosecutors say Riddell took “prompt acceptance of personal responsibility for the offenses in this case” and the U.S. Attorney’s Office is recommending the court reduce Riddell’s offense level, as long as Riddell provides truthful information about his financial status, testimony in any related case, and other stipulations.
If Riddell meets the criteria, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will recommend that Riddell face the low end of the sentencing and fine guidelines for the crimes, as well as 3 years of supervised release, forfeiture of any profits from the alleged scheme, and a mandatory $200 fee.
Though the U.S. Attorney’s Office notes that the court does not have to follow their recommendation in the plea agreement and Riddell gives up his right to appeal by agreeing to it.
Now it’s up to a judge to determine if the plea agreement will be approved, though Riddell has already taken responsibility. In a statement released shortly after the scandal broke, he said through his attorney:
"I want to communicate to everyone that I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions. I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process.
"I assume full responsibility for what I have done. I do, however, want to clarify an assertion that has arisen in the media coverage. I absolutely, unequivocally never bribed anyone, nor has the Information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged me with any form of bribery.
“I will always regret the choices I made, but I also believe that the more than one thousand students I legitimately counseled, inspired, and helped reach their goals in my career will paint a more complete picture of the person I truly am.”
Riddell also stated that he would not be making any further public comments on the matter.
He was one of among the nearly 50 people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, charged this month in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said.
Authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.
Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.
Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consulting company, Edge College & Career Network, in Newport Beach, California from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children recruited athletes to boost their chances of getting into college. The founder of Edge College & Career Network, William Singer, also hired ringers to take college entrance exams, and paid off insiders at testing centers to alter students’ scores.
Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience. That, in turn, boosted the students’ chances of admission.
Authorities said parents paid Singer approximately $25 million over the eight-year period.
Prosecutors say between 2011 and February of this year, Riddell was among those ringers who worked with Singer to either take the exams in place of the students or replace their answers with his own. Riddell was typically paid $10,000 per test, according to court documents.
In one instance, prosecutors say Riddell was supposed to correct the answers of a student test for one of Singer’s clients in Houston, Texas, but the student became ill.
Instead, after examining the handwriting of the student, Riddell allegedly went to Houston in July 2018 where he was given a copy of the ACT by a test administrator. Riddell allegedly completed the test in a hotel room and the test administrator submitted the test. Singer reportedly paid the test administrator $5,000 and Riddell $10,000 for their actions.
Riddell worked at IMG Academy as the Director of College Entrance Exam Preparation. His biography has since been removed from their website, but a cached version in Google says that Riddell was the coordinator and leader for college exam preparation and also recruited tutors for IMG students. He had reportedly been in that role since 2006, but it’s unclear if he still works at IMG Academy.
He attended IMG from 1995-2000 and graduated from Harvard in 2004. He is a former NCAA Tennis Player.
The academy released a statement after the scandal broke stating that they do not believe that anyone else associated with the academy is apart of the misconduct in this scandal.
“After learning yesterday of the allegations against Mark Riddell as part of a larger criminal investigation, we suspended Mr. Riddell indefinitely. With the current information at hand, we have no reason to believe this alleged misconduct extends beyond Mr. Riddell, nor do we believe that these actions have any direct relation to Academy students, parents, or staff.”