Crowds, celebs descend on courthouse for college-cheating hearing

April 3, 2019

The Greenwich lawyer charged with paying tens of thousands of dollars to boost his daughter’s ACT scores was set to appear before a federal judge in Boston on Wednesday as part of a nationwide investigation into an alleged college-admission cheating scandal.

Gordon Caplan, the former co-chairman of an international law firm in New York City, was charged in federal court documents as having participated in the scheme. The court papers filed by an FBI agent in Boston claim he paid $75,000 for an allegedly bribed test proctor to oversee an ACT exam taken his teenage daughter and “correct the answers after she had completed it.”

Caplan faced charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud alongside other defendants — many of them wealthy professionals and celebrities — including actress Lori Loughlin of “Full House” fame, her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli and actress Felicity Huffman.

Crowds and news media began to descend on the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse on the Boston waterfront hours before Caplan, Loughlin, Giannulli, Huffman and five others indicted in the case were scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Mary Page Kelley.

Two people in the crowd were Liana Ferrara and Alyssa Stevens, two juniors at Bentley University, who sported paper “masks” printed with a picture of Loughlin, best known as Aunt Becky on the ’90s sitcom “Full House.”

“We wanted to lighten the mood,” Stevens said.

Ferrara agreed. “It’s a beautiful day to watch Aunt Becky walk casually into a courthouse,” she said.

But the girls did not want their fandom to be taken too seriously. As college students, they understand the seriousness of the charges and decry the admissions-cheating scheme.

“I’m not surprised this happened,” Stevens said. “Rich people can be corrupt.”

Still, the entrapment of the “Full House” star of their youth is tough to reconcile.

“We love her,” Ferrara said. But ““we don’t support what she did.”

In advance of his court appearance, Caplan secured a quadrumvirate of lawyers to defend him, including Peter Cane, a regular commentator for Court TV, and Patrick Smith, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor described by his law firm as “an experienced trial lawyer and strategist with a practice focused on white collar criminal defense.”

Caplan also hired two lawyers from the Boston-based international law firm Ropes & Gray: Joshua Levy, a formal federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, and Michael McGovern, another former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, who helped convict crime bosses and defend former President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser during the Iran-Contra affair.

Court documents say they were caught in the cheating scandal centered on William “Rick” Singer and his test-prep business, in which proctors were bribed to change test results and coaches accepted students with faked sporting accomplishments.

Caplan was placed on leave by his law firm after the arrest, and has been released on $500,000 bond after his arrest in early March.

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.

In December, Caplan and his daughter flew to California, where she took the ACT at the West Hollywood Test Center. Through Singer, Caplan bribed a proctor to fix some of his daughter’s answers to improve her score, according to the affidavit.

Caplan faces a felony conviction, which would mean an automatic disbarment. The mail fraud allegation also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000.

Last week, former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Boston as part of the scheme.

When sentenced June 20, Meredith faces up to 41 months in federal prison, which take into account Meredith’s cooperation with the government as well as his crimes. Meredith could face a fine and must pay restitution of $866,000.

The case began when a suspect under investigation for securities fraud said he had paid a bribe to Meredith. That person met with Meredith in a Boston hotel room, where Meredith solicited a bribe in order to recruit the man’s daughter to Yale. The meeting was video-recorded by the FBI.