Accused Test Taker in College Scandal Plans to Plead Guilty

April 8, 2019 Updated: April 8, 2019

ORLANDO—A Florida prep school administrator accused of taking college admissions tests for students as part of a nationwide scheme in which wealthy parents bribed school officials for college entrance or arranged rigged entrance exams will change his plea to guilty, according to documents filed in federal court in Boston.

Mark Riddell, 36, plans to plead guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and a count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to an agreement filed late last month.

He has a hearing in federal court in Boston next Friday, March 12, and it will be up to a judge to decide whether to accept the agreement.

Riddell could have faced up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to the agreement, prosecutors are recommending incarceration and a fine at the “low end” of guidelines. Riddell will have to forfeit almost $240,000 that he earned from the scheme.

Among dozens of others charged in the scandal were actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, Loughlin’s husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, college sports coaches, athletic administrators, and CEOs.

Riddell was director of college entrance exam preparation at IMG Academy, which bills itself as the world’s largest sports academy. The school on Florida’s Gulf Coast was founded by renowned tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the academy has fired Riddell, a Harvard graduate. A spokesman for the school didn’t return an email inquiry Sunday.

According to federal prosecutors, Riddell secretly took college entrance exams for students or replaced students’ answers with his own in an arrangement hatched by William “Rick” Singer, an admissions consultant accused of orchestrating the scheme for years while catering to a rich clientele that included Hollywood stars and business executives.

William Rick Singer
William “Rick” Singer founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston after he pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal on March 12, 2019. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

Riddell would usually get $10,000 for each test he completed, typically from one of the foundation’s charitable accounts, according to the indictment (pdf).

“He did not have inside information about the correct answers,” Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said during a Tuesday news conference announcing the charges.

“He was just smart enough to get a near-perfect score on demand, or to calibrate the score,” Lelling added, calling Riddell a “really smart guy.”

Singer would receive $15,000 to $75,000 per test completed by Riddell.

From 2011 through February 2019, Riddell was Singer’s main man in the test-taking arena, prosecutors wrote. “The principal purposes and objects of the conspiracy included the following: to cheat on college entrance exams on behalf of the children of Singer’s clients; and to enrich Riddell, Singer, and their co-conspirators,” they said.

Lelling said that some of the students knew what was going on while others did not.

There were instances “where it’s important to parents that their child not know that this had occurred, in that kind of instance, the student would actually go and take the exam and someone working for Singer [Riddell] would come in afterward, correct enough of the answers, submit the exam,” he said. “In some instances, however, the child did know.”

He added, “There was a pretty wide range of how parents tried to play this and Singer, I think, accommodated what the parents wanted to do.”

NTD News reporter Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.