Mum gets three weeks' jail in US college admission scandal, also accused of faking race

Business owner Marjorie Klapper leaving the federal courthouse after being sentenced in Boston, Massachusetts, on Oct 16, 2019.
Business owner Marjorie Klapper leaving the federal courthouse after being sentenced in Boston, Massachusetts, on Oct 16, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON (BLOOMBERG) - A California woman who admitted paying US$15,000 (S$20,000) to rig her son's college entrance exam scores got three weeks in prison after a federal judge said she compounded her crime by falsifying the boy's ethnicity on his applications and by an earlier act of deception.

"I do find the offence here slightly more troubling" than that of Felicity Huffman, the "Desperate Housewives" star sentenced last month to two weeks behind bars, US District Judge Indira Talwani said in court in Boston on Wednesday (Oct 16).

Talwani was meting out the latest punishment in the US college admissions scandal, this time to Marjorie Klapper, a 51-year-old jeweller from Menlo Park. Like Klapper, Huffman paid US$15,000 to fix her child's scores.

But Talwani called Klapper out for her "willingness to distort the application" and for what the government says was an earlier scheme on behalf of her older son.

"I would like to apologise first to my son for all of his struggles," Klapper said before her sentence was pronounced. "I'm the last person who wanted him to experience more pain."

Klapper spoke of the families of other children who need special accommodations for tests and said she hoped her crime wouldn't cause them to face tougher questioning when they sought extra time for their own kids.

"I feel awful if I set them back," she said.

Klapper is the ninth parent sentenced of 15 who pleaded guilty to a mail-fraud conspiracy charge for paying Rick Singer, the scheme's mastermind, to get their children into college, sometimes using a corrupt proctor as an accomplice.

The eighth parent, Peter Jan Sartorio, was sentenced on Friday to a year of probation, after terms ranging from two weeks to five months. Klapper had argued her sentence should lie somewhere on the spectrum from Sartorio's to Huffman's.

In papers filed before her sentencing, Klapper's lawyers presented an analysis of US Sentencing Commission data they said called for leniency. From 2006 to 2018, they said, almost 90 per cent of mail-fraud defendants like Klapper - those who pleaded guilty and had no criminal record - got at most one day in jail.

The defence asked Talwani to have mercy on Klapper, citing her son's learning disability and the emotional turmoil of her sister's death in 2017 while she was working to get the boy into college.

 
 
 
 

Prosecutors said that Klapper had first hired Singer to help the older son with his tests and that he got an SAT score of 2140 out of 2400. That exam didn't involve Singer's accomplice, they said, but the score was cancelled after the boy was accused of cheating, partly on the basis of "an extremely unusual" discrepancy with the score he got on his preliminary SAT.

The government said Klapper and Singer had sought to explain the strong performance by faking an invoice that showed more than 170 hours of private tutoring.

Klapper's defence attorney Jonathan McDougall didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the earlier events.

"The issue is the cover-up," she told McDougall at one point. "The issue is the false statements to the test centre to say there was more tutoring that happened than did happen."

Besides her jail term, Klapper was sentenced to 250 hours of community service and a fine of US$9,500. Prosecutors said she deserved four months in prison and a US$20,000 fine.

In addition to paying to fix her younger son's ACT scores, they said, she falsely claimed on the boy's college applications that he was of African-American and Hispanic descent and that neither she nor her husband had attended college. Klapper said it was Singer and his staff, using the application passwords, who entered the false information.

"Ms Klapper did not want to level the playing field," Assistant US Attorney Justin O'Connell told Talwani. "She wanted to rig the entire game."

When the boy got a 30 out of 36 on the ACT, a strong score, Klapper e-mailed Singer a copy of the score report, according to prosecutors, with whom Singer came to cooperate.

"Omg," she told Singer, according to the government. "I guess he's not testing again." "Yep," Singer replied, "he is brilliant."