A development company founder who resides in Laguna Beach has joined 12 other parents, including Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman, in entering guilty pleas tied to the nationwide college admissions scandal that sprang out of Newport Beach, federal prosecutors in Boston revealed today.
Robert Flaxman, who is also the current CEO of Irvine-based Crown Realty & Development, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Massachusetts confirmed in today’s announcement.
Joining Flaxman in pleading guilty to the same count are, according to prosecutors: Huffman; her friend and Beverly Hills youth marketing expert Jane Buckingham; Agoura Hills sales executive Stephen Semprevivo; Los Angeles wastewater treatment company founder and CEO Devin Sloan; Menlo Park jewelry company co-owner Marjorie Klapper; Menlo Park packaged food entrepreneur Peter Jan “P.J.” Sartorio; California wine family executive Agustin Huneeus Jr., who handed the reins to his company to his father because of the scandal; New York international law firm co-founder Gordon Caplan; and fellow New Yorkers Gregory and Marcia Abbott (he’s in the beverage distribution business).
Hillsborough real estate investor Bruce Isackson and his wife Davina will plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, but the husband will also cop to money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to defraud the IRS for taking a tax deduction for the bribe, say the government attorneys who add that Michael Center, the former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas, also agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Huffman, who is pleading guilty to paying $15,000 to a fake charity associated with former Newport Heights resident Rick Singer to facilitate cheating for her daughter on the SATs, released this statement: “I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions. I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”
Huffman continues: “My daughter knew absolutely nothing about my actions, and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her. This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life. My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty.”
Prosecutors say they will be asking for jail time for all defendants, with Huffman and her fellow defendants facing anywhere between six to 21 months in federal prison as a result of the government case known as “Operation Varsity Blues.”
Others with local ties facing the same prison time with convictions are: Full House’s “Aunt Becky,” Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, whose Mossimo clothing brand started on Balboa Island; Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of Newport Beach investment-management company PIMCO; I-Hin “Joey” Chen of Newport Beach, a shipping-industry executive; and Michelle Janavs of Newport Coast and a former executive of her family’s food business that popularized Hot Pockets. (The UC Irvine School of Business and the Jewish Community Center of Orange County are named after her father, Paul Merage.)
The Giannullis, Hodge, Chen and Janavs were not among those the feds identified today as pleading guilty.
Among the locals on the USC athletic department side of the prosecution facing a federal racketeering conspiracy rap are: Ali Khoroshahin, 49, of Fountain Valley, and the former head women’s soccer coach, and Donna Heinel, 57, of Long Beach, and the ex-senior associate athletic director.
Someone seeking leniency helped the government unravel the admissions-fraud scheme. Morrie Tobin, an LA financial executive under investigation for a scam similar to the one depicted in The Wolf of Wall Street, admitted the Yale women’s soccer coach sought a $450,000 bribe to get Tobin’s daughter into his alma mater. Since-fired coach Rudy Meredith led the feds to William “Rick” Singer, who has been singing ever since.
He pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston on March 12 to money laundering, racketeering, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. Facing up to 65 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine at sentencing on June 19, Singer is seeking leniency by admitting to having built phony athletic profiles and hiring decoys to take admissions tests for the academically challenged spawn of wealthy parents utilizing the service he operated out of his Newport Heights home, Edge College & Career Network (a.k.a. “The Key”).
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.