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Head sailing coach fired after agreeing to plead guilty to bribery charges in admissions scandal

Admissions bribery case involves college coaches, wealthy business leaders, Hollywood celebrities

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Stanford has terminated head sailing coach John Vandemoer after he agreed to plead guilty to accepting more than $100,000 in bribes for the University’s sailing program as part of a sweeping admissions cheating scandal — the largest college cheating case ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

Vandemoer accepted the money on the terms that he would recruit two students to Stanford’s sailing team despite neither one being a competitive sailor. Neither student enrolled at the University.

One student was the daughter of Massachusetts real estate developer John B. Wilson, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) affidavit. The identity of the second student is unclear, but Vandemoer reportedly accepted $270,000 in payments to Stanford’s sailing program as part of the scheme. He plead guilty in Boston federal court on Tuesday afternoon.

As part of the plea deal, Vandemoer’s attorney agreed with prosecutors to recommend an 18-month prison sentence for the former coach.

“Stanford has been cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation and is deeply concerned by the allegations in this case,” wrote the University in a public statement. “The University and its athletics programs have the highest expectations of integrity and ethical conduct.”

The case became public Tuesday morning when almost 50 college coaches, wealthy business leaders and Hollywood celebrities were charged with conspiracy to facilitate cheating as part of a multimillion-dollar scheme run by college preparatory company founder William Rick Singer.

Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice, among other charges, on Tuesday afternoon, less than an hour before Vandemoer’s guilty plea. They were the first two people involved in the scandal to plead guilty.

Vandemoer allegedly agreed to claim one Stanford applicant — the son of one of Singer’s clients — was a recruit for the sailing team in exchange for a payment to the program in fall 2017. The applicant later decided not to attend Stanford, but Vandemoer allegedly agreed to reserve the same recruitment spot at the University for another Singer client for a $500,000 payment toward the program.

The FBI affidavit includes transcripts of a phone call in October 2018 between Wilson and Vandemoer in which Wilson and a “cooperating witness” believed to be Singer were attempting to secure a “side door” deal for his daughters.

“If you want I can provide John Vandemoer — [which] I’m going to essentially send John directly the check,” Singer is recorded saying. “I can send him your $500,000 that you wired into my account to secure the spot for one of your girls. I asked him for a second spot in sailing and he said he can’t do that because he has to actually recruit some real sailors so that Stanford doesn’t … catch on.”

The Daily has reached out to Vandemoer for comment.

For Wilson, Singer and his associates manufactured a fake Stanford application claiming that his teen daughter was a competitive sailor, when in reality she “had minimal sailing experience,” according to federal prosecutors. Though she did not end up applying to Stanford, the sailing program still received $160,000 from Singer’s charity, payment intended as a deposit for another of the client’s daughters.

“To be frank with you, it doesn’t matter if it’s one of the girls who’s not a sailor,” Singer added. “I can still put her as a sailor.”

For Wilson’s other daughter, who is a sailor, Singer said he could “mark that she’s a sailor because she is, but not at the level in which she can sail at Stanford.”

“We have no evidence that the alleged conduct involves anyone else at Stanford or is associated with any other team,” the University wrote in its statement, adding that it will perform an “internal review” to confirm this.

“We will ensure that Stanford will not benefit from the monies that were contributed to the Stanford sailing program as part of this fraudulent activity,” wrote University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell in an email to the Stanford Community.

He added that the University is determining “the most appropriate way to redirect the funds to an entity unaffiliated with Stanford, consistent with the regulations governing such gifts and in cooperation with the government.”

This article has been updated to note the guilty pleas of John Vandemoer and William Rick Singer on Tuesday afternoon. The article has also been updated with details on Vandemoer’s plea agreement, which recommends an 18-month prison sentence for the former coach.

This article has also been updated with comment from Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell.

Contact Elena Shao at eshao98 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Elena Shao

Elena Shao

Elena Shao '21 is from Suwanee, Georgia. At The Daily, she is a Managing Editor for News. Outside, she's a sophomore studying political science, with specializations in data science and international relations. She also enjoys learning foreign languages and is hoping to pursue a career as an investigative and data journalist. Contact her at eshao98 'at' stanford.edu.

Holden Foreman

Holden Foreman

Holden Foreman '21 is a Desk Editor for the News section. He hails from the city of St. Louis, Missouri and is studying electrical engineering, computer science and economics. Contact him at hs4man21 'at' stanford.edu.