Sunday, May 16, 2021

Former UCLA soccer coach gets 8 months for accepting bribes in college admissions scam

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A former UCLA men’s soccer coach will serve eight months in prison after admitting he took $200,000 in bribes to help two phony student athletes win admission to the college as part of a nationwide conspiracy.

Jorge Salcedo, who coached at UCLA for almost 20 years, was brought into the scheme almost five years ago by the University of Southern California women’s soccer coach at the time and became an “eager participant” in it, according to the U.S.

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The sentence is among the longest in the vast college admissions case. Prosecutors had asked for 18 months, the defense for a maximum of three. The longest so far is nine months for ex-Pimco chief Douglas Hodge.

Salcedo displayed remarkable greed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney told the court on Friday in a hearing by video conference, before the judge pronounced sentence. He earned a six-figure salary and lived in a $2.5 million mansion, she said.

“He was not stealing bread to feed his family,” Kearney said, calling him “ a perpetual cheat.”

Salcedo told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in Boston that he had made “foolish decisions from a place of desperation.”

“There is no one to blame besides me,” he told Talwani. He spoke of “desperation born of my decision to purchase a home that was way above our means” and said “the financial pressure led to a series of of misguided choices.”

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His family lost their home because of him, Salcedo told the judge.

“To my four children, who are sitting upstairs awaiting the outcome of today, I am so sorry,” he said. “I did things the wrong way, and I’ve learned there are consequences for bad choices.”

‘Fake Backstories’

The racket’s mastermind, admissions consultant Rick Singer, guaranteed admissions to elite schools for the children of wealthy parents by funneling bribes to coaches and others through a phony charity, according to the government. He has pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors by recording conversations with clients. None of the students or colleges in the scandal were charged.

Salcedo, 48, created “fake backstories” about students’ athletic achievements and lied in scholarship paperwork, claiming he saw one recruit play soccer in Canada, prosecutors said in a court filing.

“Salcedo had a duty to his team and his school,” they said. “He abused his position — and their trust — out of self-interest, and in the process undermined the integrity of the higher education system, which already favors those with money and privilege.”

In a five-page letter to the judge, Salcedo, a former professional soccer player, had said he now works for a company developing technology to fight deadly viruses and vowed to become a better husband and father.

In court on Friday, defense attorney Susan Winkler told the judge the prosecution’s portrait of naked greed was skewed.

‘Roof Over Family’s Head’

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“What went wrong for Jorge was in the spring of 2016 he bought a house he couldn’t afford,” she said, adding that the family had lived in rental properties previously. She said the home wasn’t a mansion, but a 2,900-square-foot house built in the 1940s.

But the business opportunities Salcedo had hung his hopes on didn’t come through, and he fell behind on the mortgage, she said.

“He was not living high on the hog,” Winkler said. “He didn’t use this money to buy a vacation home on Cape Cod. What he was doing was putting a roof over his family’s head.”

Talwani also ordered Salcedo to forfeit $200,000.

Trials Ahead

In seeking 18 months for Salcedo, the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which is prosecuting the sprawling college case, argued that he repeatedly participated in the scheme and violated a position of trust at the university.

Two other coaches have been sentenced so far. Former University of Texas at Austin tennis coach Michael Center served six months in prison for taking a $100,000 bribe. Former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer served a single day. The judge found Vandemoer merited a lighter sentence because he didn’t personally profit from the scheme.

More than 50 parents, coaches and associates of Singer were accused in the Justice Department’s investigation. Almost all have admitted guilt. Eight parents and four coaches are still fighting the charges and face trials this year.

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