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Davina, Bruce Isackson to plead guilty

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Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli pleading not guilty to bribery charges in the college admissions scandal.
USA TODAY

BOSTON — A wealthy California couple is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy charges Wednesday morning in Boston federal court for allegedly paying more than $600,000 in bribes to get their daughters accepted into college.

Bruce and Davina Isackson, of Hillsborough, California, would become the first parents in the nation’s college admissions cheating scandal to plead guilty in court. A dozen additional parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, have signed plea agreements with the Justice Department but await court dates later this month.

Federal prosecutors say the Isacksons paid Rick Singer, the mastermind of the cheating scheme, bribes between 2015 and February 2019 to get their older daughter into the University of California at Los Angeles and their younger daughter into the University of Southern California.

The couple last year also inquired about engaging in the scheme for their son, prosecutors say. 

More: Felicity Huffman returns to court May 13 to plead guilty in college admissions scam

Both Isacksons, who have apologized publicly for their actions, have accepted deals with prosecutors pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Bruce Isackson, the head of a Bay-area real estate firm called Woodside, has also agreed to plead guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. for deducting the payments from their taxes as charitable contributions. 

The couple faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the mail fraud conspiracy charges, and Bruce Isackson faces an additional maximum of 20 years for money laundering and five years for conspiracy to defraud. But the prosecution has recommended the “low end” of sentencing guidelines. 

The Isackson cases go before U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris, who will decide whether to accept the plea agreement.

The government has also recommended for Bruce Isackson a $150,000 fine,12 months of supervised release, pay a restitution to the Internal Revenue Service totaling $139,509, as well as an unspecified forfeiture amount. Prosecutors have suggested similar penalties for Davina Isackson. 

Both defendants have also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors provide “substantial assistance” in the prosecution of another person of crimes in exchange for reduced sentences. 

More: Former Texas tennis coach pleads guilty in court in college admissions scandal

The couple’s first alleged bribe payment, $250,000, was made to Singer’s sham nonprofit, The Key Worldwide Foundation, in July 2016 after their older daughter was accepted into UCLA as a student-athlete, an indictment against the couple reads. Prosecutors say the head women’s soccer coach, Jorge Salcedo, was paid $100,000 by Singer to classify the daughter as a soccer player.

The Isacksons had originally pursued a similar arrangement to get the same daughter into USC as a soccer recruit, prosecutors say. But she was diverted into the regular admissions process at USC because of a “clerical error.” Prosecutors say that when this happened, USC head women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin forwarded the student’s fake soccer profile, transcript and test scores to Salcedo at UCLA.

Singer’s nonprofit gave Khosroshahin $25,000 for her role, prosecutors say. 

Unlike other students implicated in the “Varsity Blues” cheating scandal, the daughter, Lauren Isackson, actually played on the highly rated  UCLA soccer team. The school’s website listed her as a midfielder on the 2017 roster. 

Davina Isackson thanked Singer in an email the day after the daughter was admitted as a student-athlete into UCLA, according to the Justice Department. 

“I know it has been a rough ride but I thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for your persistence, creativity and commitment towards helping our (daughter),” she allegedly wrote to Singer on June 29, 2016.

More: Two more defendants agree to plead guilty in college admissions bribery case

Two years later, prosecutors say that the Isacksons paid Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation an additional $250,000 in April 2018 for working to get their younger daughter admitted to USC as a rowing student even though she was not competitive in rowing. 

The scheme for the younger daughter began in January 2017, according to prosecutors, when the Isacksons got approval by the ACT for her daughter to take the test with extended time and over successive days.

Prosecutors say Mark Riddell – a former college admissions counsel from Florida who has already pleaded guilty in the scandal – flew to Los Angeles on June 9, 2017, and corrected the daughter’s answers on the ACT test. The daughter would score a 31 out of 36. 

Prosecutors say Singer later sent the fraudulently obtained test score and transcript to Donna Heinel, a USC athletics department associate with the message, “Another crew girl.” They say Singer also directed Laura Janke, a former women’s soccer assistant coach, to create a fake athletics profile for the daughter. The profile listed a number of falsified crew honors. 

Prosecutors say that the Isacksons paid Singer through shares of stock that were transferred to the sham nonprofit and falsely classified as charitable gifts: 2,150 shares of Facebook with a value of $251,249 in July 2016;  shares of stock valuing $101,272 in July 2017; and shares of stock valuing $249,420 in April 2018.

In all, five out of the 50 defendants – Singer, Riddell and three college coaches – have pleaded guilty in court in the sweeping college admission case.

MORE: Ex-tennis coach pleads guilty in college admissions scandal

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