A former college entrance exam administrator avoided prison on Monday after admitting she participated in a vast U.S. fraud and bribery scheme that has resulted in charges against dozens of wealthy parents.
Federal prosecutors in Boston argued that Niki Williams, who was a special education teacher’s assistant at a public high school in Houston, deserved six months in prison for accepting bribes to facilitate cheating on ACT and SAT exams.
But U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani instead ordered her to serve just a year of probation and forfeit the $12,500 she illegally earned, saying her conduct was “truly an aberration” in her life that already had cost Williams her low-paying job.
“I don’t mean by this sentence to suggest you are not being punished,” Talwani said. “I think you have been punished, and I think you know you have been punished.”
Williams is one of 57 people charged in the scandal, in which prosecutors said parents conspired with California college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer to secure their children’s college admissions fraudulently.
The parents include “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, who received a 14-day prison sentence, and “Full House” star Lori Loughlin, who was sentenced to two months in prison.
Singer pleaded guilty in March 2019 to facilitating cheating on college entrance exams and using bribery to secure the admission of students to colleges as fake athletic recruits.
Prosecutors said Williams accepted bribes from Singer and another person to facilitate cheating on four college entrance exams she administered to children of Singer’s clients, who included finance and marketing executives.
She did so by allowing one of Singer’s associates, Florida private school counselor Mark Riddell, to proctor the exams of his clients’ children and either secretly take tests in their place or correct their answers. Riddell has pleaded guilty.