Two Sage Hill School board of trustees members among those indicted for bribery

by in News

Between October 2012 and April 2013, Doug Hodge, then the chief executive officer at PIMCO, an Newport Beach-based international investment management group, paid at least $300,000 to a private soccer club controlled by USC coaches, a college prep company and a non-profit as part of a scheme to gain admission to USC for his daughter on the basis of a bogus athletic resume, according to a federal indictment.

The daughter, portrayed by USC coaches and a top athletic department administrator as the co-captain of the Japan national team, was admitted to the university. She did not play soccer for the Trojans.

A month before the daughter took her first class at USC, Hodge emailed William Rick Singer, the founder and operator of Edge College & Career Network, a for profit corporation, and The Key Worldwide Foundation, a Newport Beach-based 501 ( c) (3) tax-exempt, non-profit.

“Need to start discussion about the next one,” Hodge wrote.

Hodge, who spent at least $625,000 to entities linked to Singer in return for his two children to be admitted to USC because fabricated athletic credentials, is one of two Sage Hill School board of trustee members to be indicted on bribery charges this week as part of a $65-million federal racketeering case in which celebrities and the wealthy paid to have their children admitted to elite universities on the strength of falsified entrance test scores and athletic credentials.

Another board member, Michelle Janavs, was also indicted, placing Sage Hill, the exclusive Newport Coast prep school, in the middle of what U.S. attorney characterized as the “largest college admission scandal in the history of the Justice Department.”

Since the indictments were announced Tuesday morning in Boston Sage Hill has removed all mentions of its board of trustees from its website and Gordon McNeill, the school’s president, did not respond to multiple interview requests. Multiple attempts to reach both Hodge and Janavs were unsuccessful.

Sage Hill was founded in 2000 and has an enrollment of just over 500. Annual enrollment costs $40,680. The school reported revenues of $25.1 million in 2017, and $31.8 million in 2016, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service. The school lists its assets at $110 million.

USC, like the other seven schools named in federal indictment, offers preferential admission to students recruited and identified by university coaches as college level athletes but who would not otherwise be admitted to the institution based on their academic qualifications.

A federal indictment also indicates Hodge conspired with Singer to get an older daughter into Georgetown in 2008 with an application that claimed victories in several U.S. Tennis Association events. The daughter had never played in a USTA event. The daughter was admitted on the recommendation of Georgetown tennis coach Gordie Ernst. The daughter did not play tennis at Georgetown.

Ernst was also named in Tuesday’s indictment which alleges he received $2.7 million in bribes from Key Worldwide in return for facilitating the “admission of students as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities.” Ernst “designated at least 12 applicants as recruits for the Georgetown tennis team, including some who did not play tennis competitively, thereby facilitating their admission to Georgetown,” according to the indictment.

The indictment also shows that Hodge also conspired with Singer to get another child into Loyola Marymount.

Janavs, a Newport Coast resident and former executive for a food manufacturing company owned by her family, used bribes to fund a scheme that involved both her daughter’s college entrance exam and recruitment to USC as a purported beach volleyball prospect, according to the indictment.

In October 2017, Mark Riddell, the world renown IMG Academy’s director of college entrance exam preparation, traveled from Tampa to West Hollywood to proctor an ACT test taken by Janavs’ daughter. The test was also administered by Igor Dvorskiy, director of the West Hollywood College Prepatory School.

On October 29, 2017, Singer instructed Key West Foundation, the non-profit, to send an invoice to Janavs for $50,000. Key West Foundation around the same time paid Riddell $18,000 and Dvorskiy $13,000 for helping “Janavs’ daughter and another student cheat on the ACT,” according to the indictment. On Nov. 30, Janavs sent a $50,000 check from her foundation to the Key West Foundation.

The falsified ACT test score was part of an admissions application Janavs’ daughter submitted that also included a resume detailing her success as a beach volleyball player even though she did not play the sport.

Singer called Janavs on Oct. 1, 2018 to tell her that Donna Heinel, USC’s senior associate athletic director, was going to present Janavs’ daughter’s application to the USC subcommittee on athletic admissions.

“Okay, and then when she gets her final, final letter, which will happen around March 25th, then you would send the rest of the money. So I just…,” Singer said during the telephone call which was recorded by federal investigators.

“To USC or to you?” Janavs said.

“To our foundation,” Singer said.

“Yeah, so the first $50,000 goes to USC?” Janavs continued.

“Right, correct,” Singer said.

“Okay,” Janavs said.

Janavs sent a check to Heinel payable to the USC’s women’s athletic fund.

Heinel, who was also indicted this week, was fired by the university Tuesday.

Janavs paid $50,000 to fund a similar scheme for a second daughter.