By Nate Raymond
BOSTON (Reuters) – An accountant who once worked for the mastermind behind the U.S. college admissions cheating and bribery scandal has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in the ongoing investigation, federal prosecutors said on Friday.
Steven Masera, who served as the financial officer for the business operated by California college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, will plead guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering, federal prosecutors in Boston said.
He is among 50 people who were charged in March with participating in a vast scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with Singer to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of their children to top universities.
The investigation has resulted in charges against 33 parents including former “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty on May 13, and “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin, who has pleaded not guilty.
No date has been set for Masera, 69, to plead guilty. His lawyer, David Thomas, declined to comment.
Prosecutors have said that parents paid Singer more than $25 million to bribe coaches at universities including Yale, Georgetown and the University of Southern California to help their children gain admission as fake athletic recruits.
Parents also paid Singer to arrange to have an associate secretly take college entrance exams in place of their children or correct their answers at two test centres he controlled through bribery, prosecutors allege.
Singer pleaded guilty on March 12 to operating the scheme through his California-based college admissions counselling service, Edge College & Career Network, also known as The Key, and a related charity, Key Worldwide Foundation.
Masera, a resident of Folsom, California, worked as an accountant and financial officer for both The Key and the foundation until December 2017, according to an indictment.
Prosecutors alleged that at Singer’s direction, Masera sent bribe payments to an SAT and ACT exam administrator in California who allowed an associate of Singer’s to proctor the tests of the children of Singer’s clients.
The proctor was Mark Riddell, a former counsellor at a Florida private school who pleaded guilty in April to secretly taking SAT and ACT college entrance exams in place of Singer’s clients’ children or correcting their answers.
The indictment said Masera sent about $10,000 per test to Riddell at Singer’s direction. Masera also engaged in a scheme that helped some of Singer’s clients disguise bribe payments as charitable donations to his charity, prosecutors said.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Leslie Adler)