BigLaw co-chair charged in college cheating scandal; wiretapped calls are evidence
Gordon Caplan. Photo from Willkie Farr & Gallagher.
Updated: Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of Willkie Farr & Gallagher in its New York City office, is among 50 people charged in an alleged bribery scheme to gain students’ admission into top universities.
Among the 33 parents accused of paying bribes are Caplan, Full House actress Lori Loughlin and actress Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives.
Caplan has been placed on a leave of absence and will have no further management responsibilities, according to a statement Wednesday by Willkie Farr.
Caplan is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to a press release. He is accused of paying $75,000 to bribe the proctor of an ACT exam with the help of a college prep company. The FBI wiretapped phone calls between Caplan and a witness who eventually cooperated with the FBI.
According to an FBI affidavit and an indictment, the cheating was widespread. Test administrators at a few locations for the SAT and ACT took bribes to facilitate cheating, while varsity coaches took bribes to designate some applicants as athletes or other favored candidates.
The coaches worked at schools that include Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, the University of California at Los Angeles, Stanford University, Yale University and Wake Forest University, prosecutors said. Doctored entrance exams also were used to help gain entrance to elite colleges.
At the center of the scheme is William Rick Singer, who created a college prep business called the Edge College & Career Network, which is also known as the Key. Prosecutors said the business helped engineer the bribery scheme, while its nonprofit arm, the Key Worldwide Foundation, concealed the bribes as charitable contributions.
The company would advise students taking college exams to ask for extra time because of a disability and then to request transfers to either of two test sites “controlled” by the Key, according to the FBI affidavit. Singer is cooperating with prosecutors and has agreed to plead guilty.
The FBI affidavit describes recorded conversations between Caplan and “Cooperating Witness 1,” identified as the founder and an operator of the Key. The affidavit does not say whether the witness is Singer.
The cooperating witness told Caplan that students who took the doctored admissions tests weren’t aware of the scheme and were thrilled when they got their test results. The witness told Caplan his daughter “won’t even know that it happened. It will happen as though, she will think that she’s really super smart, and she got lucky on a test.”
Caplan told the person he found the notion of his daughter flying to Los Angeles to take the exam with the company’s proctor pretty interesting.
“It’s the home run of home runs,” the person replied.
“And it works?” Caplan asked.
“Every time,” the person replied, laughing.
In another recorded conversation, the person offered to have one of his staff members take online classes while masquerading as Caplan’s daughter to bring up her grade point average.
A person who answered the phone at Caplan’s office at Willkie Farr said there would be no comment at this time.
Willkie Farr issued this statement: “As widely reported, one of our partners, Gordon Caplan, was among the persons charged in the college admissions matter. This is a personal matter and does not involve Willkie or any of its clients. In light of the seriousness of the matter, Mr. Caplan has been placed on a leave of absence and will have no further management responsibilities. The firm will continue to be managed by its co-chairmen, Steven Gartner and Thomas Cerabino, and its executive committee. Our focus remains on our responsibilities to our clients, partners and employees.”
Updated on March 13 to add statement from Willkie Farr.