UT tennis coach arrested, charged in massive college cheating scandal

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AUSTIN, Tex. (KBTX)- Four of the 50 people charged in what officials described Tuesday as largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Justice Department were indicted in Texas, among them the head coach of the University of Texas men’s tennis team, Michael Center.

Michael Center. (University of Texas photo)

Center, 54, who was indicted for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, was arrested Tuesday and made an initial appearance before a federal magistrate Tuesday afternoon.

His bond was set at $50,000.

He must later appear in court in Massachusetts, where the nationwide investigation was initiated.

Center is accused of accepting $100,000 in 2015 as a bribe to designate a student from Los Altos Hills, Calif., who did not play competitive tennis as a recruit.

Center was placed on administrative leave, the university said in a statement Tuesday.

Court documents say an admissions consulting company in California set up by William "Rick" Singer was paid $25 million from 2011 through February 2019 to help facilitate the bribes.

Singer, of Newport Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boston to charges including racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission to elite schools, authorities said.

“In exchange for the bribe, the U-Texas coach designated the son of one of Singer’s clients, who did not play tennis competitively, as a recruit for the university’s tennis team, thereby facilitating his admission to U-Texas,” a court document says.

Center who is in his 19th season in Austin, has a 365-137 record over 18 seasons with the men's team.

Martin Fox, 62, the president of a private tennis academy and camp in Houston, is accused of introducing Singer to Center and of arranging similar bribes on two occasions with varsity coaches at the University of San Diego.

He was indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Niki Williams, 44, an assistant high school teacher in Houston, who works as a test administrator for both the College Board and ACT, Inc., is accused of accepting bribes to allow Mark Riddell of Palmetto, Fla. to secretly take ACT and SAT tests in place of the children of Singer’s clients or to replace their exam responses with his own.

Singer funneled bribe payments to her through Fox, court documents allege, but in July 2018 Singer sent her a $5,000 check directly.

She was indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Riddell was indicted for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

John Wilson was indicted in the Southern District of Texas for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, the Justice Department said.

Wilson, 59, of Hyannis Port, Mass., is the founder and CEO of private equity and real estate development firm;

Nine coaches at elite schools and 33 parents accused of paying what prosecutors said were “enormous sums” to guarantee their children’s admission are named in the indictments.

Coaches are accused of taking bribes to admit students at schools including Wake Forest University, Georgetown University and the University of Southern California.

Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among those charged.