LOS ANGELES — John Vandemoer, a former sailing coach at Stanford University who swapped spots at the elite college for bribes, was spared prison Wednesday for his role in the widespread college admissions scandal.
In choosing not to incarcerate Vandemoer, U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel came down on the side of the disgraced coach, who had pleaded for leniency because he did not pocket the bribes personally and quickly accepted responsibility for his crimes when he was discovered. The judge sentenced Vandemoer to a symbolic one-day imprisonment, but deemed that to have already been served. She ordered him to serve two years of probation, with the first six months in home confinement.
Vandemoer, 41, was the first to be sentenced among the 50 coaches, parents and others charged in the federal investigation into what authorities say was a nearly decadelong scheme to sneak the children of wealthy families into top universities with rigged entrance exams, bribes and doctored applications that made unqualified teens into competitive athletes.
Vandemoer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy in March and admitted to taking $610,000 from William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach college consultant and the confessed architect of the widespread scam that allegedly included coaches and administrators at several top-tier universities and parents from some of the country’s wealthiest enclaves.
In exchange for the money, which Vandemoer gave to Stanford’s sailing program instead of himself, the coach designated three children of Singer’s clients as sailors he wanted on his team to boost their chances of admission to Stanford. None of them were competitive sailors.
Approached by federal agents in February, Vandemoer admitted taking bribes from Singer and concealing his illicit dealings from Stanford, prosecutors said. He was arrested in March and fired the same day from the head sailing coach post he’d held for 11 years.
Prosecutors had asked Zobel to sentence Vandemoer to 13 months in prison, saying it was a just punishment for someone who had defrauded Stanford of its right to select the roughly 2,000 students it wants to admit from an applicant pool that reached nearly 44,000 last year. More broadly, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen wrote in a court filing, Vandemoer had sown cynicism and deepened the public’s mistrust of the college admissions process.
A period of incarceration was also needed, Rosen argued, to deter others who might be tempted to try a similar scam.
“It is also the only way to begin restoring confidence in a college admissions system that most people agree is needlessly unfair,” Rosen wrote.
Vandemoer’s attorney had asked the judge to take a far more sympathetic view of Vandemoer. The attorney, Robert Fisher, wrote in a court filing that the father of two should be spared prison and receive only probation.
Fisher emphasized that Vandemoer did not profit personally from the bribes, despite the opportunity to do so, and that no students were admitted through his misdeeds. Of the three applicants Vandemoer misrepresented to Stanford as sailing recruits, two chose to attend other schools.
The third student was admitted to Stanford through the normal application process; the athletic recruiting scam proved unsuccessful because Singer and Vandemoer initiated it too late in the recruiting season, prosecutors said.
That student, identified by the Los Angeles Times as Yusi Zhao, has been expelled from Stanford. Her mother acknowledged paying Singer $6.5 million after Zhao was admitted in 2017. Singer then directed $500,000 to Vandemoer’s sailing program.
Through an attorney, Yusi Zhao’s mother denied her payment was a bribe. No member of the Zhao family has been charged in the investigation, which is ongoing.
In a victim impact statement filed with the court, Stanford’s general counsel said Vandemoer had tried to undercut a highly selective admissions process the school considers “vital to its mission and reputation.”
While the general counsel, Debra Zumwalt, said Vandemoer’s crimes were “wholly antithetical to Stanford’s core values,” she noted he took responsibility and had not enriched himself from the scheme. Stanford took no position on Vandemoer receiving a particular sentence.
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