Ex-Texas tennis coach set to plead guilty | News Coverage from USA

Ex-Texas tennis coach set to plead guilty

BOSTON – Michael Center, the former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas who prosecutors say took a $100,000 bribe in the college admissions scandal, is expected to plead guilty in federal court Wednesday afternoon. 

Center signed an agreement with federal prosecutors this month admitting guilt to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. 

He now heads to federal court in Boston before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns, who will decide whether to accept the agreement.

Center would become the third college coach to admit guilt in court for their role in the largest-ever college admissions bribery and cheating scandal, joining former Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith and former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer.

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

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

Center was dismissed from the University of Texas after federal prosecutors unsealed the “Varsity Blues” case in March. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, 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.

Prosecutors say 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.

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 14 parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, have agreed to plead guilty.  

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