Vancouver Football Star-Turned-Tycoon Snared in College Scam

(Bloomberg) -- When David Sidoo, a three-time All Canadian football player and multi-millionaire dealmaker, received a medal for public service at a swanky Vancouver steakhouse a few years ago, a former federal cabinet minister lauded him for the values he taught his children.

Among the lessons imparted to his two sons appears now to have been how to pay someone else to take their college entrance and high school graduation exams for them, according to an explosive investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into college-admission fraud.

Vancouver Football Star-Turned-Tycoon Snared in College Scam

Sidoo is among the four dozen charged in a sweeping criminal conspiracy that allegedly helped applicants from wealthy families win admission to elite schools including Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.

“I gotta tell you David, when you read through the CV, it’s mighty impressive -- not just for your professional accomplishments,” former Conservative lawmaker Chuck Strahl told the crowd at the Black+Blue steakhouse in December 2012. Sidoo, a well-known local philanthropist, humbly accepted his gold medal in a video produced by his family foundation. “But also just for an attitude, what you’re teaching your family, what you’re teaching your kids.”

Fake ID

Just days earlier, Sidoo had allegedly bought a plane ticket to fly someone from Tampa, Florida, to Los Angeles to take the SAT entrance exam for his youngest son, Jordan, at a local high school using a fake ID, according to a 12-page indictment by U.S. prosecutors in Massachusetts. The unnamed impostor would score 2,280 out of a possible 2,400 on the college-admissions test, receiving a $100,000 payment from Sidoo about a month later for his assistance.

In earlier transactions, Sidoo had arranged for the person to take his older son Dylan’s high school graduation and SAT exams. For the latter, he told the test taker to not obtain “too high a score” because his son had scored a middling 1,460 earlier on the SAT, according to the indictment.

“David Sidoo has been repeatedly recognized for his philanthropic endeavors, which is the true testament to his character,” his lawyer, Richard A. Schonfeld, said in an emailed statement. The allegation “carries with it the presumption that he is innocent,” Schonfeld said. “We look forward to presenting our case in court.”

Sidoo, charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, was arrested on March 8 in San Jose, and a date for his initial appearance in federal court in Boston has not yet been set. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison in addition to three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.

University Scholarship

Sidoo, born to an Indian immigrant family in a gritty suburb outside Vancouver, began his path to fame as a football player thanks to a scholarship at the University of British Columbia. The 6-foot-1 (1.8 meter) defensive back was the first Indian-Canadian to make the Canadian Football League. He played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the B.C. Lions until 1988, and then joined as a broker for Yorkton Securities.

In recent years, he’s been better known as a prolific dealmaker and promoter, who’s served on the board or management of nearly a dozen Canadian penny stock companies. His sons have been involved in some of them, including Meridius Resources Ltd., where Dylan is president and chief executive officer, and Jordan is a director.

According to Sidoo’s personal website, he made a fortune as a founding shareholder of American Oil & Gas Inc., which was sold to Hess Corp. in 2010 for more than $600 million. Many of his other ventures have been less successful.

Advantage Lithium Corp., another Vancouver-based explorer where Sidoo is currently president, was trading at 52 cents Wednesday, down more than 55 percent from its high last May. A high-profile venture that brought celebrity chef Daniel Boulud to Vancouver ended with both restaurants shuttering in two years. Sidoo didn’t respond to an email and voice mail left at his Advantage Lithium contacts.

In Vancouver, he rubs elbows with the city’s most influential and famous, regularly making Vancouver Magazine’s annual list of the 50 most powerful. He’s joined mining magnate Frank Giustra in philanthropic efforts serving breakfast to children in its poorest neighborhood. The football program at his alma mater has remained close to his heart, where he led a multi-million-dollar fundraising effort and had the football stadium named after him.

Vancouver billionaire Francesco Aquilini is an adviser to his latest venture, Liberty Defense Technologies, a U.S. security company Sidoo was helping to list in Canada via a reverse takeover, according to corporate filings. Liberty Defense Chief Executive Officer Bill Riker didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

UC-Berkeley

But it seems Sidoo had educational aspirations for his children elsewhere. His sons went on to enroll in Chapman University in California and the University of California, Berkeley, according to the indictment. Dylan transferred out of Chapman, the university confirmed in an email. According to their LinkedIn profiles, Dylan graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California in 2016 and Jordan graduated from Berkeley last year. They didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment made by email, phone and LinkedIn.

USC and Berkeley said they’re checking if they were enrolled. USC also said it’s conducting a case-by-case review of graduates and current students involved in the allegations.

“Integrity in our admissions process is critically important,” Berkeley said in a statement. “Students who do not adhere to that value may have their admissions offer revoked, enrolled students may be dismissed, and diplomas conferred may be revoked.”

Sidoo’s relationship with the test taker appears to have endured.

Just in October, Sidoo bantered with the test taker on a phone call about scoring 2,100 on the GMAT and saying his older son was applying to business school, according to the indictment.

“They don’t have a 2,100 for the GMAT. But I would do my best to get it for ya,” the test taker told Sidoo, who allegedly replied, “I know.”

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