A California man accused of paying $400,000 to help his son secure entry to Georgetown University as a purported tennis recruit pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraud conspiracy in the admissions bribery scandal, prosecutors announced.
Stephen Semprevivo, 53, a business executive from Los Angeles, faces the possibility of prison after acknowledging in federal court in Boston that he committed a crime in his dealings with college admission consultant William “Rick” Singer. Prosecutors are recommending 18 months of incarceration and a fine of $95,000 under the terms of a plea agreement. Sentencing is scheduled for September.
Of 33 parents accused in the investigation, Semprevivo is the third to plead guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. He is the first with a Georgetown connection to do so. Singer, mastermind of the scheme, has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other crimes and is cooperating with authorities. Another 11 parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, plan to plead guilty to fraud conspiracy in coming weeks, according to court documents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.
Federal investigators said, in an affidavit filed with the court, that Semprevivo agreed to bribe Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst to designate Semprevivo’s son as a tennis recruit — even though the son did not play tennis competitively. Singer instructed Semprevivo’s son in August 2015 to send a transcript, test scores and an email note to Ernst, according to the affidavit.
“Dear Coach Ernst,” the note read, according to the affidavit. “I wanted to update you on my summer doings. After your suggestion I have played very well with terrific success in Doubles this summer and played quite well in singles too. I am looking forward to having a chance to play for you. Our conversations have inspired me to try to dominate my competition this summer. Senior year is about to start and you can count on me to achieve great grades. Thanks for the chance to play for you and Georgetown University.”
The son — who has not been accused of any crime — sent the note, according to the affidavit. Federal investigators said his Georgetown application falsely indicated that he played tennis for four years of high school and was ranked in singles and doubles. A Semprevivo family trust paid $400,000 to a Singer-controlled foundation in April 2016, according to the affidavit, after the son was admitted to Georgetown.
The Singer-controlled foundation then made “numerous payments” to Ernst, the affidavit said. From September 2015 to November 2016, the affidavit said, Ernst was paid a total of $950,000 for the purported recruitment of Semprevivo’s son and the children of other Singer clients. Semprevivo’s son matriculated at Georgetown in fall 2016, prosecutors say, but never joined the tennis team.
The affidavit includes excerpts from a wiretapped conversation between Singer and Semprevivo on March 3. In it, Semprevivo denied knowing Ernst’s role in his son’s admission. “You know, all I know is that we, you know, we used you for the charity stuff and we used you for the counseling, and your dealings are your dealings,” Semprevivo told Singer, according to the affidavit.
Ernst, charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, has pleaded not guilty. He coached at Georgetown from 2006 to 2018. An attorney for Ernst declined to comment.
Georgetown admissions are highly competitive. The overall admission rate in 2016 was 16 percent. Investigators say Singer advised his clients that their children would have a better shot at highly selective schools such as Georgetown if they posed as athletes.
To knowingly misrepresent or falsify credentials on an application can be cause for dismissal, Georgetown officials say. University spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak wrote in an email that Georgetown has reviewed Ernst’s “alleged fraudulent actions” and contacted students who may have been implicated. Each student, she wrote, is “being given the opportunity to be heard before any action is taken.”