A former leading partner at a prominent New York law firm was sentenced Thursday to one month in prison for scheming to boost his daughter’s score on the ACT test, becoming the latest parent punished in the college admissions bribery scandal, prosecutors announced.
Gordon Caplan of Greenwich, Connecticut, had pleaded guilty in May to fraud conspiracy after federal prosecutors disclosed that he had paid $75,000 for a test proctor to fix the answers on his daughter’s score sheet to ensure she would obtain a prearranged result.
“We hope she can get a 32 or pretty close thereto,” Caplan told college consultant William “Rick” Singer in a recorded December telephone call, according to a court document. The ACT maximum is 36.
“Got you,” Singer replied, according to the document. “So can I just — I want to clarify. So she’s going to take the test on her own, she’s going to do her best, all that stuff, and then we’re going to do our magic on the back end.”
“You’re going to — you’re going to do what you do,” Caplan said.
In another call, court records show, Caplan told Singer: “It’s just, to be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”
At the time, Caplan was co-chairman of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, an international law firm with more than 700 attorneys. He left the firm soon after prosecutors announced charges in March against him, Singer and dozens of others in the “Varsity Blues” investigation. Prosecutors revealed a two-part scandal involving cheating on SAT and ACT admission tests and assistance to applicants to prominent universities using fake athletic credentials to pose as recruited athletes. Singer, the admitted mastermind, has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other crimes and is cooperating with the government.
Within weeks of his arrest, Caplan apologized. “I take full and sole responsibility for my conduct and I am deeply ashamed of my behavior and my actions,” he said in an April statement. “I apologize not only to my family, friends, colleagues and the legal Bar, but also to students everywhere who have been accepted to college through their own hard work.” He said his daughter, who is still in high school, did not know of the scam at the time she took the test.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sentenced Caplan to a month in prison, according to the office of the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. The judge also imposed a $50,000 fine, 250 hours of community service and one year of supervised release.
Caplan was the fourth parent sentenced in the scandal within the past month. All pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Actress Felicity Huffman, who also participated in the test-cheating scheme, was sentenced in September to two weeks’ imprisonment. California business executive Devin Sloane and Stephen Semprevivo, who participated in the recruiting fraud, were both sentenced to four months.
Prosecutors had recommended that Caplan spend eight months behind bars. “That a lawyer who has reached the apex of his profession could engage in such blatant criminality reveals a staggering disdain for the law,” they wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “As much as any defendant in this case, Caplan deserves to go to jail.”
Caplan’s attorneys urged Talwani to spare him a prison term or give him a sentence no longer than Huffman’s. They said Caplan had expressed remorse and publicly acknowledged responsibility for the crime earlier than others caught in the scandal. In all, 35 parents have been charged in the investigation. Nineteen have pleaded not guilty.
“Gordon quickly grasped the magnitude of the havoc he had caused,” his attorneys wrote. “He knew instantly that his stupidity, his moment of ethical weakness had not just blown up his life and career. Gordon had inflicted a devastating — and intensely public — blow to the young, vulnerable person he was actually trying to help, his daughter.”