Charges dropped for first time in US admissions scandal

Just ahead of trial, former Wake Forest volleyball coach gets reprieve in return for repaying alleged bribe

October 13, 2021
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US prosecutors have agreed to drop charges against a defendant for the first time in the college admissions scandal, sparing a former Wake Forest University volleyball coach shortly before he was due to face trial.

The former coach, William Ferguson, will have the case against him dismissed if he pays a $50,000 (£40,000) fine and meets other legal conditions over the next two years, the US Department of Justice said. The government prosecutors, in announcing their decision, gave no reason for it.

Most of the 57 parents and other alleged participants charged in the scandal have pleaded guilty and received jail terms averaging a few months.

The scandal centred on a California admissions consultant who helped children of wealthy families gain admission to elite US institutions by routing payments to university officials – usually sports officials who are allowed a limited number of admissions slots for applicants they present as top players.

Mr Ferguson was given the deal just days after the first court trial in the scandal ended with the convictions of two parents, and a few weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial alongside two sports officials from the University of Southern California.

He resigned as coach of the Wake Forest women’s volleyball team in August 2019 after pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering. Prosecutors later added mail and wire fraud charges.

Mr Ferguson was alleged to have helped a single student gain admission to Wake Forest as a volleyball recruit. In return, the admissions consultant, William Singer, allegedly relayed $100,000 from the parent, with $40,000 going to the Wake Forest volleyball programme, $10,000 to a Wake Forest sports booster club, and $50,000 to a private volleyball camp that Mr Ferguson ran.

At the time the coach was charged, Wake Forest’s then-president, Nathan Hatch, said the student in the case was admitted to the university and remained enrolled, having been unaware of the alleged payments by her family.

The only other person so far to escape from prosecution in the scandal is Robert Zangrillo, a Miami investor pardoned by Donald Trump just before he left the White House. Mr Zangrillo was accused of paying $250,000 to help get his daughter admitted to USC.

Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts who agreed to drop the charge against Mr Ferguson are “not commenting beyond the court documents”, their spokeswoman said.

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