U.S. Gets Boost in College-Scam Case With ex-USC Coach Plea
(Bloomberg) -- A former USC soccer coach who took bribes to write bogus athletic profiles for the children of well-heeled parents in the U.S. college admissions scandal pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy, adding to prosecutors’ leverage against those fighting the case.
Laura Janke, who was employed as an assistant women’s soccer coach at the University of Southern California, admitted Tuesday that she was part of a network of coaches, university officials and test administrators led by admissions strategist William “Rick” Singer, the mastermind of the biggest college cheating case the U.S. has ever brought. Their role was to get the kids into school as recruited athletes, even if they had no history of playing the sport.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen said in federal court in Boston that Janke, 36, created almost every phony profile used in Singer’s scheme. She made some of them while at USC, without the university’s knowledge, and even more after she left the college in 2014, right up to her arrest in March, he said.
That makes Janke a central figure in Singer’s $25 million racket, a linchpin connecting colleges cited in the scheme. She is in a position to corroborate information from Singer -- who himself pleaded guilty in a cooperation deal -- against former USC athletic administrator Donna Heinel, former women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin, parent Lori Loughlin and others. Janke set up phony rowing profiles as coxswains for both of Loughlin’s daughters, including YouTube star Olivia Jade, according to prosecutors.
Heinel, Khosroshahin and Loughlin have pleaded not guilty.
While employed at USC, Janke worked under Khosroshahin, who had been her soccer coach during her career as a goaltender at Cal State Fullerton. The college’s media guide for 2003, when she was a senior, lists her under Top Returning Goalkeepers, and the 2002 media guide says she was “on the verge of etching her name into the top spot of numerous career record lists.”
Janke faces 27 to 33 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. She will seek leniency for providing “substantial assistance” to prosecutors and has agreed to forfeit more than $134,000 she earned in the scheme, according to her plea deal. She may testify as a witness for prosecutors in any trial.
In court on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani asked Rosen what would happen if prosecutors decide they don’t need Janke to testify at trial.
“We generally use people’s cooperation to engage in plea agreements with other defendants,” Rosen said. “That’s probably what will happen here.”
Fifty people, including 33 parents, have been charged in the scheme so far. With her plea Tuesday, Janke becomes the fourth coach to admit wrongdoing. She was indicted in March along with 11 others.
None of the students or colleges cited in the scheme have been charged. Ron Mackovich, a spokesman for USC, declined to comment on Janke’s plea.
Prosecutors said Singer directed Janke in November 2017 to create a fake profile for the daughter of Toby MacFarlane, a parent from Del Mar, California, who allegedly paid Singer $350,000 to get the girl into USC as a soccer player. Janke wrote that the applicant was a “US Club Soccer All American” in high school. She was notified of her admission in March 2014.
Janke also wrote a bogus profile for the son of Devin Sloane, another California parent whose son eventually won admission to USC, in this case as a water polo player, in exchange for $250,000. The biography of Sloane’s son boasted he spent summers playing for the “Italian Junior National Team” and played in tournaments in Greece, Serbia and Portugal.
MacFarlane has agreed to plead guilty in the case, while Sloane pleaded guilty on Monday. So far, 14 parents have agreed to plead guilty, and five of those, including TV star Felicity Huffman, have entered their pleas. Nineteen parents are fighting it out.
The whoppers could get surreal, according to court documents. Las Vegas media executive Elisabeth Kimmel is accused of paying $250,000 to Singer to get her son into USC. Singer directed Janke to gin up a profile of the boy as an elite pole vaulter and help digitally alter a photo of a real one to turn him into a star. His high school had no record of his participation in the sport, or in any track-and-field events, the government says. USC notified him of his admission in March 2018.
For Janke, it all started with an email from Singer.
“I met with Donna this week in her office and she gave the action item to create profiles for all the kids I presented to her... ,” he said. “Would you be willing to put the profiles together for pay?”
Janke’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 17.
The case is U.S. v. Janke, 19-cr-10081, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, (Boston).
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