Former senior associate athletic director is to plead guilty in U.S. college admissions scandal

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A former senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California is expected to plead guilty to participating in a fraud and bribery scheme for wealthy parents’ children to gain admission to colleges as fake sports recruits.

Donna Heinel was supposed to attend a federal jury trial in Boston in a few weeks. This will be the second trial to arise from the U.S. college admissions scandal. It appears that Heinel will instead plead guilty to honest services wire fraud.

Prosecutors alleged she accepted bribes from the California college admissions consultant who masterminded the scheme, William “Rick” Singer, in exchange for designating his clients’ children as athletic recruits.

Her plea deal was decided after the first trial, when two fathers, former casino executive Gamal Aziz and private equity firm founder John Wilson, were convicted in the first trial in the scandal of trying to buy their children’s way into USC.

Under her plea deal, Heinel agreed not to appeal any prison sentence of 46 months of less and forfeit $160,000. The plea hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Her lawyer, Nina Marino, said she “did the honourable thing.”

Heinel is one of the 57 people who were charged in the “Operation Varsity Blues” investigation, which ensnared business executives and celebrities and exposed inequalities in U.S. higher education.

In 2019, Singer pleaded guilty to cheating on college entrance exams and funneling money from the parents to corrupt sports coaches and university athletic officials to secure the admission of their children as phoney athletes.

Forty-eight individuals have to plead guilty, including Full House actress Lori Loughlin and Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman.

From 2014 to 2018, Singer’s clients made more than $1.3-million in payments to USC accounts that Heinel designated and professionally benefited from.

In the beginning in 2017, she was also paid $20,000 per month through a sham consulting agreement with Singer. In exchange, Heinel facilitated the admission of more than two dozen students.

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