Ex-Texas tennis coach pleads guilty | News Coverage from USA

Ex-Texas tennis coach pleads guilty

BOSTON – Michael Center, former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in federal court Wednesday, becoming the third college coach to plead guilty in the nation’s college admissions scandal. 

Center, who admitted to accepting $100,0000 in bribes to falsely designate a college applicant as an athlete, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. He was appearing before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns, who accepted the plea agreement. 

He also agreed to cooperate moving forward with prosecutors and provide “substantial assistance” as the Justice Department pursues possible other defendants in the already-sweeping case.

Center joins former Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith and former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer as coaches who have waived the right to a trial to instead reach a deal with prosecutors in the nation’s largest-ever college admissions conspiracy case.

A fourth coach, former University of Southern California assistant women’s soccer coach Laura Janke, on Tuesday entered a guilty plea but awaits a court date.

Center, fired by Texas in March, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, an additional three years of supervision upon release and a fine of $250,000. But prosecutors have recommended he receive the “low end” of the sentencing range, which would be between 15 and 21 months. He also faces $60,000 in forfeiture. 

Center’s sentence hearing will take place this summer. 

“Yes sir,” Center said, when asked by the judge if he know what his guilty plea means.

Center, a former journalism major in college who is married with two children, coached highly ranked tennis teams at Texas. He told Judge Stearns that the stress of the case has forced him to take anti-anxiety medicine including Xanax. 

Mike Cudha, Center’s attorney, issued a statement outside the courthouse following the hearing that expressed his client’s regret for his actions. 

“Michael Center is a very good man who made a bade mistake – a criminally bad mistake,” Cudha said. “He has helped countless people. He’s mentored countless people over the course of a long career. He’s very sorry for what he did and at this point wants to make amends.”

Cudha declined to discuss what information Center might offer as part of his cooperation agreement. But he added: “There are very few cooperation agreements in this courthouse.” 

More: Two more defendants agree to plead guilty in college admissions bribery case

Assistant U.S. attorney Eric Rosen went over Center’s charges in court. He said Center in 2015 agreed to accept a payment of $100,000 from Rick Singer, the ringleader in the admissions scheme, in exchange for designating a student from Los Altos Hills, California, who did not even play competitive tennis, as a Texas tennis player. 

College admissions scandal: More arrests could be coming ‘in the near future’ in admissions case, prosecutors say

The money came from more than $630,000 in stock donations that the father of the student, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chris Schaepe, allegedly made to Singer’s sham nonprofit organization the Key Worldwide Foundation.

Schaepe has admitted publicly that he’s the parent implicated in the case but has said he committed no wrongdoing and thought Singer’s group was “aboveboard.” He has not been charged in the case and his name is not disclosed in the complaint against Center nor was it mentioned in court.

Prosecutors say the bribe to Center was arranged by a separate defendant, Martin Fox of Houston, who last month pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges. Fox introduced Center to Singer, prosecutors say. 

Court cases: 12 defendants in biggest-ever college admissions cheating scandal plead not guilty in Boston

Fox emailed Center the student’s transcript and application essays in the fall of 2014, prosecutors say, and Center later emailed the student’s application to the college administration so that it would be coded as a student-athlete. 

Documents referenced by the prosecution say the student’s tennis experience on the high school tennis team was limited to just one year as a freshman.  

In February 2015, the student’s father – Schaepe – made a donation of stock valued at $455,194 to Singer’s nonprofit, according to prosecutors. In March, prosecutors say Center emailed the father that he would be sending him a letter of notification for a “books” scholarship, which allows the university to purchase books for college athletes as part of the recruitment process. University of Texas awarded the student the scholarship the next month.

After he enrolled at the University of Texas, the student quickly withdrew from the tennis team at the beginning of the academic school year in September 2015, prosecutors say. 

His father had allegedly made additional stock donations of $102,925 and later $73,445 to Singer’s foundation in April and May 2015.

Singer mailed Fox a check of $100,000 in June 2015 for his role in brokering the bribe, according to the complaint against Center. 

In April, an employee of Singer’s organization purchased a $25,000 cashier’s check payable to “Texas athletics,” prosecutors say. Singer in June sent a $15,000 check to Center and that same month flew to Austin, Texas, and gave Center $60,000 in cash in a hotel parking lot, prosecutors say.

More: Mark Riddell, test-taker ace in college admissions cheating case, pleads guilty in court

Three years later, in October 2018, Singer – who by this point was cooperating with the Justice Department’s investigation into the college admissions scheme – allegedly got Center to admit to his role during wiretapped phone call while prosecutors listened.

“I was calling because I have a kid potentially for next year,” Singer told Center, according to a transcript in court documents. “He’s a 2-3 star, so obviously he’s not at the level of you guys.”

Center: “Yeah.”

Singer: “And I was hoping we could, kinda, do what we did last time. I’m not sure what exactly what we actually did, but whatever that is, if we could do something like that, that would be fabulous. Do you remember what we did?”

Center: “Yeah, I mean, I signed him to “books.”

Singer: “Yeah, OK. “

Center: “And I got him in the school, you know, and then he – then he withdrew from the team. I mean, does this kid wanna be on the team or does this kid wanna just get into school?”

Later in the conversation, Singer asked Center if he could recall their financial arrangement from 2015. Center responded that Singer sent him a couple of checks that he put toward a tennis facility and later came to Austin.

“So, I think – I think the total amount was in the nineties area, if I remember correctly. Yeah,” Center said. 

In all, four out of the 50 defendants, including Singer, have pleaded guilty in the sweeping college admission case and another 16 defendants, including actress Felicity Huffman, have agreed to plead guilty.  

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *