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Greenwich lawyer faces 8 to 14 months in prison for college admissions cheating scandal

Jo KroekerMay 21, 2019

BOSTON — Disgraced Greenwich lawyer Gordon Caplan is facing eight to 14 months in federal prison for his part in a college admissions cheating scandal, prosecutors said in court Tuesday afternoon.

Caplan officially entered his guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying $75,000 to have his daughter’s answers to be corrected on her ACT exam.

“I want to emphasize that my daughter had absolutely nothing to do with this,” Caplan told Judge Indira Talwani during his hearing in U.S. District Court in Boston.

During the proceedings, his attorney Joshua Levy also assured the judge, “With respect to Rachel Caplan, she had no knowledge of Mr. Caplan’s conduct.”

The prosecutors also agreed that Caplan’s wife would not be charged in the case. This had not been included in the plea agreement.

Standing before Talwani in a conservative suit, Caplan answered “Yes, your honor” to her questions and said he understood that she has the authority to impose a longer sentence than the eight- to 14-month prison term recommended by prosecutors. The maximum sentence is 20 years behind bars.

Prosecutors also recommended that Caplan, the former co-chairman of international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher in Manhattan, pay a $40,000 fine.

He will be sentenced on Oct. 3.

Caplan, 53, told the court he fully understands the charges against him, and waived his right to an indictment by a grand jury. He also said he understands that by entering a plea, he waives his right to a trial and the rights that come with it.

This is how the college admissions scam went down: Caplan flew to California with his daughter to see a psychologist, who found she needed extra time to take her college admissions test. The ACT approved the request for extra time. Rachel Caplan, who was attending an online high school, then flew to Los Angeles in December and took the test.

Co-conspirator Mark Riddell corrected her answers. Caplan had requested a score of 30 or 31 on the ACT; Riddell gave her a score of 32. The top possible score is 36.

Under the charge, Caplan pleaded guilty to using U.S. mail services to attempt to defraud ACT Inc. of his daughter’s real exam and score, which are the property of the ACT testing company.

Prosecutors said they would not bring additional money-laundering charges against Caplan and another defendant in court, Agustin Huneeus Jr., a Bay Area vintner. These charges would have increased their sentencing.

Caplan and Huneeus follow actress Felicity Huffman, who became the highest-profile parent to officially plead guilty in the Operation Varsity Blues college-admissions cheating scandal in federal court on May 13.

Napa Valley vintner Agustin Huneeus Jr. also pleaded guilty Tuesday to the same charge for contributing $50,000 to a fake charity that ultimately would go to University of Southern California athletic officials to help her gain admission as a water polo recruit.

A total of 13 defendants have now pleaded guilty in Operation Varsity Blues, a sting that ended with 50 arrests, including the ringleaders, college coaches and dozens of wealthy parents. Seven additional parents have agreed to plead guilty and are awaiting court hearings.

After his arrest on March 12, Caplan was accused in federal court documents of paying $75,000 to have a hand-picked proctor oversee an ACT exam taken by his daughter and “correct the answers after she had completed it,” according to federal documents.

He appeared in federal court in Boston in April with others charged in the notorious case, including actress Lori Loughlin, of “Full House,” and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Gianulli.

He secured four high-powered attorneys for his defense: Levy and Michael McGovern of Boston-based international law firm Ropes & Gray, as well as Peter Cane, a regular commentator for Court TV, and Patrick Smith, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor.

Caplan was caught in a cheating scandal centered on William “Rick” Singer and his test-prep business. Federal officials say phone calls between Caplan and Singer were taped between June and December 2018. These wire tappings allege Caplan paid for a California psychologist to evaluate his daughter and conclude she had learning differences and qualified for extra time to take her college entrance exams.

The FBI-wiretapped conversations in which Caplan worked through the scheme with ringleader Singer, according to the court filings.

“I can make scores happen,” Singer told Caplan in one conversation recorded by the FBI in late 2018, released in the criminal complaint. “She (the daughter) won’t even know that it happened.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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