BOSTON (AP) — A packaged-food entrepreneur accused of paying $15,000 to rig his daughter’s college entrance exam became on Wednesday the first of the 33 parents charged in the college bribery scandal to agree to plead guilty.
Peter Jan Sartorio, 63, of Menlo Park, California, disclosed the plea agreement in court documents just before he was scheduled to join Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and other wealthy parents in federal court to face charges in the scam.
The case has roiled the world of college admissions and amplified complaints the system is stacked in favor of the rich.
The two actresses and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, said little during the brief hearing in a packed Boston courtroom and were not asked to enter a plea. They remain free on bail. Several other parents were given similar hearings of a few minutes each.
The proceedings came three weeks after 50 people were charged with taking part in a scheme in which parents bribed coaches and helped rig test scores to get their children into some of the nation’s most selective universities, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.
It was the biggest college admissions scheme ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.
Loughlin, 54, who appeared in the 1980s and ’90s sitcom “Full House,” is accused along with Giannulli of paying $500,000 to get their daughters admitted as recruits to the USC crew team, even though neither is a rower. Authorities said the couple helped create fake athletic profiles for their daughters by having them pose for photos on rowing machines.
The Hallmark Channel, where Loughlin starred in popular holiday movies and the series “When Calls the Heart,” cut ties with her a day after her arrest.
Huffman, the 56-year-old former “Desperate Housewives” star, is charged with paying the admissions consultant at the center of the scheme $15,000 to have a proctor correct the answers on her daughter’s SAT.
Huffman, Loughlin and Giannulli have not publicly addressed the allegations.
They and others are charged with conspiracy and fraud, which carries up to 20 years in prison. But first-time offenders typically get only a fraction of that, and experts said some parents may avoid prison if they quickly agree to plead guilty.
The exact charges to which Sartorio agreed to plead guilty were not immediately clear. Authorities said Sartorio, the founder of an organic frozen-food company, paid cash to have someone correct his daughter’s answers on the ACT. His lawyers did not immediately reply to an email for comment.
Other parents charged in the case include the former co-chairman of an international law firm and the former head of a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.
Three people have pleaded guilty, including the admissions consultant, Rick Singer, and the former women’s soccer coach at Yale, Rudy Meredith.
The case set off a furor over the feverish competition to get into college and the lengths to which status-seeking parents will go. Many complained that the playing field has long been uneven, with wealthy students enjoying the advantages of private schools, tutors, test-preparation coaches, admissions consultants and big donations to colleges from their parents.
On Wednesday, Loughlin smiled as she walked out of the courthouse and climbed into a black SUV with her lawyers. A fan shouted, “I love you, Felicity!” as Huffman emerged from the courthouse with her brother.