This week Gordon Caplan, a Greenwich resident, said he planned to plead guilty for his role in the massive college cheating scandal that resulted in dozens of arrests last month.
Caplan, who has been relieved of his role as co-chairman at the firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York since his arrest, said in a statement released Friday that he was, “deeply ashamed of my behavior and my actions.”
Caplan said he took responsibility for his actions. “I apologize not only to my family, friends, colleagues and the legal Bar, but also to students everywhere who have been accepted to college through their own hard work,” Caplan said in the statement. He also insisted that his daughter, now a high school junior in Greenwich, had been unaware of his misconduct.
“I want to make clear that my daughter, whom I love more than anything in the world, is a high school junior and has not yet applied to college, much less been accepted by any school. She had no knowledge whatsoever about my actions, has been devastated to learn what I did and has been hurt the most by it.”
“My immediate goal is to focus on making amends for my actions to try to win back the trust and respect of my daughter, my family, and my community,” the statement continued. “The remorse and shame that I feel is more than I can convey.”
Caplan, named by the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts as a defendant in March, was charged by complaint for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud. The charge carries a legal maximum of 20 years in prison.
Also snagged in the scheme
in the college admissions process, were actresses, college coaches, exam administrators and wealthy CEOs.
The scheme involved wealthy parents allegedly paying bribes to get their kids into elite colleges with help from coaches and fraudulent test-takers.
The goal of the scheme orchestrated by Rick Singer, owner of Edge College & Career Network and CEO of Key Worldwide Foundation, was to fraudulently gain admission for students to schools including Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown.
Singer has cooperated with authorities and pleaded guilty.
In the scheme, students allegedly faked learning disabilities which psychologists documented so the students would get extra time on the tests.
Singer, in turn arranged for proctors to correct their tests.
He also allegedly bribed coaches who presented prospective students as athletic recruits to elite schools.
According to an affidavit, around December 2018 Caplan made a charitable donation of $75,000 to The Key’s foundation in exchange for the test proctor to correct his daughter’s ACT exam without her knowledge.
“She won’t even know that it happened. It will happen as though, she will think that she’s really super smart, and she got lucky on a test, and you got a score now,” Singer said to Caplan in a phone call that was captured on a court authorized wire tap.
Caplan whose daughter was enrolled at an online school, was instructed to seek extended time for her on the standardized test by purporting her to have a learning disability and obtaining medical documentation from a psychologist.
“I also need to tell [your daughter] when she gets tested, to be as, to be stupid, not to be as smart as she is. The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies,” Singer said in the wiretapped conversation.
“And it works?” Caplan asked Singer about the scheme.
“Every time,” Singer replied.
Later, Caplan said, “It feels a little weird.”
“I know it does,” Singer replied. “But when she gets the score and we have choices, you’re gonna be saying, okay, I’ll take all my kids, we’re gonna do the same thing.”
Later, Singer said that since Caplan’s daughter didn’t attend a traditional school the psychologist would have to do a “huge write up,” but that it would be worthwhile.
“Here’s the great thing,” Singer added, “When she goes to college, she gets to bring this report with her …She’ll get all the accommodations when she gets to college as well.”
In July 2018, according to the affidavit, Singer suggested to Caplan that they have one of Singer’s employees take an online class for Caplan’s daughter to raise her GPA.
According to the affidavit, in a conversation with Caplan, his spouse and Singer, “Caplan’s spouse replied that she had ‘a problem with that.’”
Then in a private conversation between Caplan and Singer, Caplan asked, “If somebody catches this, what happens?”
“The only one who can catch it is if you guys tell somebody,” Singer replied, adding, “So the only way is, if somebody says at [your daughter’s] school, “Oh by the way, you re-took this class, congratulations, you got an A, blah, blah blah,” she can’t act like, ‘Really? When did I take that?'”
“I see. Okay,” Caplan replied.
Later in the same call, back on the subject of the ACT, Caplan said, “I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”
“It’s never happened before in twenty-some-odd years. The only way anything can happen is if she…” Singer said.
“Someone talks,” Caplan said.
“Yeah, if she tells somebody. And that’s why even on the payment to the school thing, nobody, we never tell the, you know, she just needs to know that you’re gonna get some help on this class.”
“She’ll be more than happy,” Singer said.
“Oh yeah, I, she, she won’t talk,” Caplan replied.
According to the affidavit, around November 6, 2018, after twice denying the request, the ACT ultimately granted Caplan’s daughter extended time on the exam.
“You were right. I mean, it was like third time was the charm,” Caplan told Singer the day after his daughter was granted the extended time.
In addition to Mr. Singer’s guilty plea, former Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith has pleaded guilty.
The first of the 33 parents to plead guilty in the bribery scandal was Peter Jan Sartorio, a California entrepreneur.
The scandal has highlighted the class divide in American, resulting in a national conversation about the college admissions process and how it benefits the wealthy.
Many have complained that the playing field has always been uneven, and that wealthy parents have always paid for pricey private schools, enrichment activities, sports and music lessons.
They sign children up for expensive volunteer abroad programs.
Expensive test prep is de rigueur, as are private college counselors.
The wealthy write big checks to university development offices. Donations of buildings or endowments of scholarships are seen as philanthropic acts and are tax-deducible.
And what about the advantages given to legacies?
Given the static number of spots at top schools, and the increasing number of applicants, if two candidates have comparable applications, won’t the one whose parents can pay the full freight have the advantage?
Where does one draw the line to define what is cheating?
Certainly Singer’s alleged scheme was illegal. Some of the criminal charges involve potential prison time for the Singer, parents and coaches.
But how culpable are the children?
So far no students have been charged in connection with the cheating scandal that snagged Mr. Caplan.
Caplan had been released in New York on $500,000 bond and remains free on the terms of that bond.
Original story, March 12, 2019: