Netflix releases documentary on biggest college admissions scandal in U.S.

Courtesy of NetflixCourtesy of Netflix

Breanna Hill, Features Editor

Netflix has an extensive collection of documentaries on various subjects, and they just keep adding to it — including a recent hit documentary featuring detailed information about the largest college scandal in U.S. history.

“Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” is another widely accepted Netflix original released March 17. It follows the biggest college admissions scandal organized by Rick Singer who labeled himself as a sort of college life coach, dedicated to helping the children of some of the wealthiest families with getting accepted in some of the most pristine universities across the U.S.

Before starting several businesses focused on getting these kids into college, Singer was the Cal State Sacramento University basketball coach from ‘89-’92. After a consistent losing steak one year the whole coaching staff was fired, including Singer, which led to him stumbling upon a deceitful career choice. 

Singer didn’t act alone in this. Several athletic coaches and directors at universities like Stanford corroborated with Singer for profit. Along with the connections Singer made at universities, he also coaxed a recent Harvard grad Mark Riddell who was sick of low income to support his first born into helping proctor tests and change answers to benefit the children of these wealthy families. 

The way Singer and the parents would guarantee the children getting into their university of choice would be a method Singer called the “side door” which included the parents making a donation to Singer’s foundation, and Singer would turn around and bribe coaches and athletic directors to “recruit” these prospective students, ensuring their spot at the university. 

These children, most of them anyways, unknowingly posed as potential student athletes. Admissions at the universities would take the word of these coaches and athletic directors because no suspicions were necessary in these situations. 

Stanford’s sailing coach was caught up in the bribery by accident it would seem. Singer contacted John Vandemoer while working with a client of his who was eager to attend Stanford. Immediately Singer knew Vandemoer was uninterested in himself benefiting from the money he was offering; the coach only cared about his athletes having a program to participate in without worry of the team getting cut due to lack of funding. Vandemoer would be contacted several times by Singer who offered money for the benefit of the program in hopes of the coach taking a look at different clients. Vandemoer accepted the money but never secured a spot on the team for clients just because of the occasional donations Singer provided. 

The families involved range anywhere from actors, lawyers, CEOs and authors. Each client strictly did business with Singer, all thinking none of this would come to light. The appealing lower price that Singer provided the families through his “side door” approach was favored greatly considering the only other options were the kids getting in on their own merit or using the back door approach which was considerably more pricey than Singer’s way. 

Singer was a natural born manipulator who fed on the weaknesses of these families. He was able to identify their weaknesses, fears and struggles through phone calls and in-person meetings. He assured every family worried about this becoming breaking news for one reason or another that he’s done this for twenty or so years, give or take, and they have nothing to worry about. 

Singer was on a high. He had worked with approximately seven hundred families in this new career choice and upgraded from his modest home in Sacramento to a more luxurious lifestyle. He had managed to draw in assistants and others who would aid him in keeping up the nitty-gritty parts of the business, making sure never to share too much information about his private life or the questionable aspects encompassed in it. 

Unknowingly, Singer’s phone had been wire-tapped by an FBI unit early on and had been monitoring his phone calls with his clients, gathering the dirty and deceitful in-and-outs of his business. The bribery-focused unit of the FBI continued to monitor Singer and record personal notes on the situation. 

Though the FBI was tracking Singer’s every move, it was another charge on the UCLA girls soccer coach, Jorge Salcedo, that secured them a one-on-one with Singer. The coach willingly became an informant for the FBI and IRS to avoid a prison sentence. Salcedo tricked Singer into meeting at a hotel once Singer returned from a trip to visit a client and Singer fell for it. Singer came face to face with his worst fear; he was caught and forced to aid the police in gathering evidence regarding the families involvement. 

Singer created a false situation featuring an auditing story to provide the evidence the law enforcement officials needed to charge the families and the others involved with Singer’s “side door” approach. 

Once enough evidence was gathered, the story broke and justice was put to the test when charging some of the wealthiest families in the world was necessary. Most of the parents involved were charged with petty fines and low prison sentences because of their involvement. The sailing coach lost his job, was given a $10,000 fine, and a lengthy home confinement order. 

Fifty people in total were charged regarding the scandal. Singer pled guilty and is currently a free man living back in Sacramento awaiting sentencing. 

The documentary includes real life conversations occurring between Singer and his most notable clients as well as re-enactments of some of the situations questioned during the case. It was well produced and gives accurate information regarding the scandal. 10/10 recommend watching to see the different families involved.

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