LA exec faces sentencing for paying $400K to get son into Georgetown as a fake tennis recruit
BOSTON — Stephen Semprevivo, a Los Angeles business executive, is set today to become the third parent sentenced in the college admissions scandal after he admitted to paying $400,000 to have his son admitted into Georgetown University as a fake tennis recruit.
Prosecutors have singled out the sum as one of the largest bribes in the nationwide scheme orchestrated by college consultant Rick Singer.
They’ve recommended Semprevivo be sentenced to 13 months in prison, pay a $95,000 fine, serve 12 months of supervised released and pay a restitution of $105,000.
Semprevivo, 53, was formerly chief strategy officer at Cydcor, a privately held provider of outsourced sales teams. He was let go in May.
His sentencing in Boston federal court comes two days after U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani gave Los Angeles businessman Devin Sloane four months in prison for paying $250,000 to get this son falsely tagged as a water recruit to get him into the University of Southern California.
The judge’s decision appeared to set a tougher standard for parents in Singer’s scheme who made larger payments to take part in the athletic recruitment scheme rather than fixing test scores. Actress Felicity Huffman, the first parent sentenced in the “Varsity Blues” scandal, was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying Singer $15,000 to have someone correct answers on her oldest daughter’s SAT exam.
In a memo filed ahead of the sentencing, prosecutors said Semprevivo has been “something less than a model of contrition,” noting his legal team sued Georgetown in May. The lawsuit, which has since been withdrawn, listed Semprevivo’s son, Adam Semprevivo, as a plaintiff and sought to prevent the school from expelling him. The recommended restitution amount matches the legal fees accrued by Georgetown in the admissions scandal.
“Semprevivo’s bribe payment shows just what the fraud was worth to him,” prosecutors said. “He then made his son an active participant in a long-term federal crime.
“Even after pleading guilty, he abused the legal process in an effort to preserve the benefits of that crime (his son’s attendance at Georgetown) — thereby demonstrating, in spectacular fashion, a complete lack of remorse. Prison is the only appropriate sentence in these circumstances.”
His defense team has asked that instead of prison he receive probation and 2,000 hours of community service at the nonprofit Volunteers of America Los Angeles. In a sentencing memo filed last week, his lead attorney, David Kenner, lauded Semprevivo’s “long history of community service.”
But Talwani rejected an identical request for community service made by Sloane, questioning how such a penalty would be punitive.
Kenner cast his client as a “victim” of Singer, who “prayed on Stephen, and parents like him, in his 25-million-dollar racketeering bonanza.” He said Semprevivo first encountered Singer through a legitimate college counseling service. But that Semprevivo, who was obsessed with his son’s future, was a “perfect target” for Singer.
Kenner said Semprevivo’s son originally wanted to attend Vanderbilt University, but Singer convinced the family the school lacked prestige outside of the South. He said Singer shifted their focus to Georgetown, where he had a co-conspirator employed: then-Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst.
In a letter to the judge, Semprevivo said he takes “total and full responsibility” for his actions.
“In business I have always talked about integrity first and how important that is. I
have done my best to teach good ethics and to follow the right path. Now, I have let down the people I have worked with and those whom I have mentored; and I have profoundly disappointed myself.
“It brings me great shame that I have now set a terrible example for college bound students and their parents across the nation.”
Semprevivo admitted to writing a $400,000 check from his family trust to the sham nonprofit operated by Singer in April 2016 after his son was admitted into Georgetown. Prosecutors say a portion of the money was paid to Ernst, the tennis coach at the time, who had designated the son as a Georgetown tennis player to facilitate his entry even though he knew he didn’t play the sport competitively.
Ernst, who left Georgetown to become the head women’s tennis coach at University of Rhode Island in 2018, in April pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges. He’s accused of taking more than $2.7 million in bribes to designate at least 12 recruits, including Semprevivo’s son, as tennis players. The University of Rhode Island put Ernst on leave after he was indicted.
In seeking prison, prosecutors have pointed to the fact that Semprevivo “involved his son as an active and knowing participant in the scheme.”
Per instructions from Singer, Semprevivo’s son sent his transcript, test scores and a note that Singer drafted to Ernst. The note explained how he looks forward to playing tennis at Georgetown.
The son’s application into Georgetown falsely said he played singles and doubles tennis all four years and was ranked. It also described him as a “CIF Scholar Athlete” and “Academic All American” in tennis and basketball and said he made the “Nike Federation All Academic Athletic Team” in tennis. The son’s applications to other schools did not reference tennis at all.
The first defendant to be sentenced in the college admissions scandal, John Vandemoer, former sailing coach at Stanford University, in June received house arrest instead of prison.
Sentencing of parents continues next week with prominent New York attorney Gordon Caplan on Oct. 3. Caplan has pleaded guilty to paying $75,000 to Singer’s nonprofit to have someone correct the answers of his daughter’s ACT exam.