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May 2, 2019

Summer sentencing (with notable particulars) for first college admission scandal parents to enter pleas in court

This Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Bay Area couple first to plead guilty in college admissions scandal," reports on a huge high-profile federal fraud case now getting ever closer to sentencing for one pair of defendants. Here are the details:

A Northern California couple who secured their daughters’ spots at UCLA and USC with bribes and rigged tests pleaded guilty Wednesday to fraud and money laundering offenses, the first parents to admit their guilt before a judge in an investigation that has sent shivers through circles of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood and some of the country’s most elite universities.

Davina Isackson of Hillsborough, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of fraud conspiracy. Her husband, real estate developer Bruce Isackson, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud conspiracy, one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. They will be sentenced July 31. In Davina Isackson’s plea agreement, prosecutors recommended a sentence at the low end of federal guidelines that call for 27 to 33 months in prison. For Bruce Isackson, they suggested a sentence at the low end of 37 to 46 months in prison.

Of the 33 parents charged in the investigation, the Isacksons are the only ones to have signed cooperation deals with prosecutors. If prosecutors decide the couple provided useful and credible information, they can recommend that a judge sentence them below the federal guidelines.

Investigators want to learn from the couple who at UCLA and USC knew of an alleged recruiting scheme they used to slip their two daughters into the universities as sham athletes, The Times has reported. The Isacksons’ older daughter, Lauren, was admitted to UCLA as a recruited soccer player, given a jersey number and listed on the team roster as a midfielder for an entire season, despite never having played the sport competitively, prosecutors alleged.

To ensure she got in, they said, her parents transferred $250,000 in Facebook stock to the foundation of Newport Beach college consultant William “Rick” Singer, which Bruce Isackson later wrote off on the couple’s taxes as a charitable gift....

The Isacksons tapped Singer’s “side door” the following year to have their younger daughter admitted to USC as a recruited rower, prosecutors alleged. The couple also availed themselves of Singer’s test-rigging scheme, prosecutors said, in which he bribed SAT and ACT administrators to turn a blind eye to his 36-year-old, Harvard-educated accomplice.

With the help of the accomplice, Mark Riddell, the Isacksons’ younger daughter scored a 31 out of 36 on the ACT, prosecutors said. Her father paid Singer’s foundation $100,000 and wrote it off on taxes as a charitable gift.

I find notable that federal prosecutors think that two+ years of imprisonment is necessary for one of these the Isacksons and that three+ years is necessary for the other in accord with guideline calculations. But, because it appears that these defendants may be providing "substantial assistance," the feds may ultimately be recommending lower sentences as a kind of compensation for this kind of cooperation.

Prior related posts:

May 2, 2019 at 11:23 AM | Permalink


Yet another example of the general trend that the guidelines are absurdly harsh on nonviolent offenders. I also dislike the conflation of the bribe itself with the charge of money laundering, presumably because of how the bribe was paid. As cooperators, I assume they will get much less than the guidelines, probably no time at all. But even if they had no useful info to give, this ought to be settled with a few months and a very fat fine. How about a fine that will significantly hurt them without actually bankrupting them, and 3 months each. Obviously they don't feel much need for the money. If they play games to avoid paying up, THEN bring down the Wrath of God. It's a serious crime and should be treated as such, but this level of book-throwing is just wrong.

One more thing. It pisses me off that bribes are judged by the amount and by enhancements that don't have anything to do with how much people are hurt. The research is that going to a less-elite school does little or no harm to someone. What matters is their preparation and industriousness, and the admission to an elite school merely reflects that. Even among nonviolent offenders, this crime is far less harmful than bilking money out of people with fraudulent investments, for example. A soccer coach is unjustly enriched, the SAT is cheated, and someone goes to a less-elite school. Bad stuff, but it's nothing compared to stealing peoples' life savings with some swindle.

Posted by: William Jockusch | May 2, 2019 7:40:33 PM

Doug, have you seen any analysis of loss calculations for these cases? At least one story I read reported that Judge Saris commented that the calculation was far from straightforward. Given her status as a former chair of the USSC, that’s a good indicator the matter is not cut and dried. Thanks.

Posted by: TJH | May 3, 2019 7:03:43 AM

My problem with fines is that they have little deterrent effect, this is especially so under the excessive fines clause. The underlying problem in my view is that we view fines from the perspective of harms caused without taking into account the ability to pay. Norway does it different, which is how they can hand out $100K fines for speeding.

So if they can't be fined to deter, what other choice is there but to jail them?

Posted by: Daniel | May 3, 2019 9:04:09 PM

I suppose the tax assessment date has passed. But that the expenses resulted in a charitable deduction is also problematic. You aren't supposed to get a charitable deduction if you get a benefit. That alone is problematic.

Posted by: Houston Tax Attorney | May 6, 2019 12:31:30 AM

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