Former U.S.C. Official to Plead Guilty in College Admissions Scandal

Donna Heinel will admit to being part of a sweeping scheme that helped fake athletic recruits get into top universities, in exchange for bribes.


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A former University of Southern California athletic administrator has agreed to plead guilty to being part of a sweeping scheme to get students admitted to prestigious universities as fake athletic recruits, in exchange for bribes.

Donna Heinel, the administrator, is expected to enter the plea in Boston federal court on Friday morning, less than two weeks before she was scheduled to go to trial in the case. The investigation, known as Operation Varsity Blues, exposed a corrupt private college consultant, William Singer, working with coaches, test administrators and wealthy parents willing to pay thousands of dollars in bribes to get their children into some of the country’s top universities.

Dr. Heinel received more than $1.3 million in bribes according to federal prosecutors.

Her plea comes about a month after two of the parents, Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and John Wilson, a private equity financier, were found guilty by a federal jury in Boston; they were the first people to stand trial in the case.

Dr. Heinel was directly implicated in Mr. Abdelaziz’s case. Prosecutors said she helped Mr. Abdelaziz’s daughter get admitted to U.S.C. in 2018 as a basketball recruit, even though she had not made her high school varsity team. Prosecutors said Mr. Abdelaziz subsequently sent $300,000 to a foundation controlled by Mr. Singer. A few months later, court papers say, Mr. Singer began making payments of $20,000 a month to Dr. Heinel, in exchange for her assistance in easing the way for Mr. Abdelaziz’s daughter and the children of Mr. Singer’s other clients. Mr. Abdelaziz’s daughter never joined the U.S.C. basketball team.

Jeffrey Cohen, a former federal prosecutor, said Friday that the conviction of Mr. Abdelaziz may have pushed Dr. Heinel to take the plea deal.

“Those accused of being involved now recognize that the defenses made by Abdelaziz are not likely to persuade a jury, namely that this was part of the normal admissions process and nothing corrupt,” Mr. Cohen said. “Faced with that realization, the defense will be hard-pressed to formulate a defense, especially for the coaches who are part of the university and not outsiders to the process.”

The investigation has snared more than 50 parents, coaches, exam administrators and others in an admissions scheme that implicated college athletic programs at the University of Southern California, Yale, Stanford, Wake Forest and Georgetown. Most have pleaded guilty rather than take their chances in court.

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