Plot thickens for Stanford sailing scandal

Published on March 15th, 2019

The mastermind behind the massive college admissions bribery scandal gave Stanford’s sailing coach a previously-undisclosed $500,000 payment after the prestigious university admitted a student who had “fabricated sailing credentials” in her application, court documents obtained by The Mercury News show.

But the student was admitted through the university’s normal process, a Stanford spokesman said March 14th, and not on the recommendation of disgraced sailing coach John Vandemoer (above), who pleaded guilty on March 12th to charges that he accepted $270,000 in payments to reserve coveted admission spots for applicants with bogus sailing bonafides.

The new revelations more than double the amount of money previously known that Stanford’s sailing program received in the scandal that has led to federal bribery and racketeering charges coast-to-coast against college coaches, test administrators and dozens of wealthy parents who paid millions of dollars to get their kids into the country’s elite schools.

Stanford announced it had fired Vandemoer after he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, admitting he held open admission spots — reserved for athletic recruiting — for two students who were falsely portrayed as competitive sailors.

Neither of those two students aided by Vandemoer was ultimately admitted to the school, according to the university and prosecutors.

However, federal court transcripts from Vandemoer’s plea hearing show a student brought to Vandemoer as an applicant in late 2016 “was ultimately accepted to Stanford partly due to the fact that she had fabricated sailing credentials,” falsified by William Rick Singer, the man at the center of the scheme.

“This student received no recommendation from the head sailing coach, but was admitted to Stanford through the university’s normal process and is currently enrolled,” E.J. Miranda, a spokesman for the school, said in an email.

“The student has no affiliation with the sailing program. We are working to better understand the circumstances around this student and will take whatever actions are appropriate based on what we learn.”

• Stanford University officials have appointed Clinton Hayes as an interim head coach for their sailing team after former coach John Vandemoer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges. Hayes was in the midst of his 9th year as an assistant coach at Stanford and will serve as interim head coach through the 2018-19 season.

• Stanford University published a list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the school’s involvement in the criminal admissions scandal: click here.

Vandemoer did not help the student’s “application in any material way,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told the judge during the hearing.

Yet after the student was admitted to Stanford, Singer sent $500,000 from his sham charity — paid into by wealthy parents involved in the scheme — to the Stanford Sailing program to be used at Vandemoer’s discretion.

Vandemoer wasn’t charged in connection with that student or the payment. His lawyers say there is no evidence to show he did anything to help that student get into the elite school.

“I’m telling you, he did nothing,” Rob Fisher, his attorney, said Thursday in an interview.

Asked why Singer gave $500,000 to Vandemoer’s sailing program if the coach didn’t help the student get admitted, Fisher speculated that it may have been “to establish a relationship” with Vandemoer.

“Sometimes people try to give a sign of goodwill about things that could be coming,” Fisher said.

Fisher emphasized that prosecutors said Vandemoer did not take any of the money into his own bank account.

“The checks were not made out to him, they were made out to Stanford,” Fisher said during Vandemoer’s plea. “Stanford has that money.”

Some of the money was used to purchase boats for the team, according to court documents, but it’s unclear how much was spent.

Because prosecutors don’t believe Vandemoer took any of the money for his own personal use, Rosen told Federal Court Judge Rya Zobel he was recommending a sentence of 18 months in jail, about half of the 33 to 41 months federal law suggests for this kind of crime.

Vandemoer’s sentencing is scheduled for June 12.

Stanford has been vague in its response about what it will do with the tainted money — which now totals $770,000 — saying it will be redirected to “an entity unaffiliated with Stanford.”

“We do not have details at this point, but we want to do the right thing with funds that were contributed as part of a fraudulent activity,” Miranda said March 14th in an email.

“Our intention is to ensure that the total amount originally provided to the sailing program is redirected.”


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