BOSTON — Most of the parents charged in the nation’s largest college admissions scandal were accused of paying to cheat on admissions exams or bribing coaches to get one child into college, or perhaps two.
But prosecutors said that Douglas Hodge, retired chief executive of bond giant Pimco, was in a different class, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to get no fewer than four of his seven children into elite schools and attempting to do so with a fifth child.
On Friday, a federal judge sentenced Hodge, who pleaded guilty to two counts — money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud — to nine months in prison. It was the heaviest punishment of any parent who has been sentenced in the admissions scandal, though it fell considerably short of the two years that prosecutors had recommended.
“There is no term in the English language that describes your conduct as well as the Yiddish term of chutzpah,” Judge Nathaniel Gorton told Hodge before imposing his sentence. “You need to pay a significant and conspicuous price for unconscionable, egregious criminal conduct in order to deter you and others who can afford it from the blatant misuse of your good fortunes.”
The judge said that were it not for Hodge’s record of philanthropy and other good works, which his lawyers had sought to lay out in detail, he would have sentenced him to more than a year in prison.
Hodge’s sentencing comes at a critical moment in the case that has drawn in dozens of parents and coaches and was announced last March.
Twenty parents have pleaded guilty, and now 14 have been sentenced, with punishments for the other parents ranging from no prison time to six months behind bars. Several parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, who was sentenced to two weeks in prison for paying a consultant to cheat on her daughter’s SAT exam, have already completed their prison sentences.
Another 15 parents, including actress Lori Loughlin, have pleaded not guilty and appear headed to trial, possibly this year.
As some of those parents weigh whether to continue fighting the charges, the outcome for Hodge may provide an indication of how much the stakes are increasing the longer they wait.
Prosecutors had hoped that the sentence would send an even stronger message. In a sign of how much importance they placed on Hodge’s case, Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, attended the hearing.
Prosecutors had argued to the judge that Hodge was uniquely culpable, engaging in the admissions scheme more often and over a longer period of time than any other defendant and doing so from a position of immense privilege.
Over more than a decade, they said, Hodge paid $850,000 in bribes — $325,000 to a Georgetown University tennis coach to have his eldest daughter and son admitted to that school as tennis recruits and $525,000 to have another daughter and son admitted to the University of Southern California as recruits in soccer and football with fabricated qualifications.
Referring to Hodge’s philanthropy, particularly aimed at expanding educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, a prosecutor, Justin O’Connell, said he did not dispute Hodge’s charitable acts, but he called the hypocrisy “stunning.”
At least three of Hodge’s children have already graduated from the schools they were admitted to. Prosecutors said that three of Hodge’s children had gained some insight into the scheme when it was happening. Hodge and his lawyers said his children were unaware and not involved.
Hodge’s lawyers also disputed the prosecution’s assertion that he tried to engage in the fraud a fifth time, with a fifth child, saying that he was seeking to make a legitimate donation to Loyola Marymount University in that situation.
Hodge’s lawyers presented a different picture of him, as a devoted father, a man known for his integrity in business and a generous philanthropist. In a speech in which he frequently choked up with emotion, one of Hodge’s lawyers, Brien O’Connor, described how, over the years that Hodge was engaged in the admissions scheme, he also gave away more than $30 million to causes including charter schools in California and an orphanage in Cambodia.
He accused the prosecutors of saying that Hodge should be punished more harshly because of his wealth and success and urged the judge to reject that argument.
O’Connor also sought to put Hodge’s involvement in the admissions scheme in a more sympathetic light. He said the college counselor at the center of the conspiracy had told Hodge that his money would go to support athletic programs and, in some cases, underprivileged college athletes, making it seem to Hodge at first like “a win-win-win.”
Hodge’s lawyers asked for part of Hodge’s sentence to be served in home detention. In his retirement, the lawyers said, Hodge was a stay-at-home caregiver to his two youngest children while his wife worked full-time running a foundation that the couple started, dedicated to mentoring girls and young women. The judge rejected the request.
Hodge addressed the judge in a short speech in which he only briefly became emotional, when he referred to his wife of 30 years.
“I have in my heart the deepest remorse for my actions,” he said.
He then added, “I do not believe that ego or desire for higher social status drove my decision-making. Rather, I was driven by my own transformative educational experiences and my deep parental love.”