Ex-University of Texas tennis coach gets six months prison for admissions scam
Michael Center, the former head coach of the men’s tennis team at the University of Texas at Austin, leaves the federal courthouse after being sentenced in connection with a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Amanda Sabga
Originally Published; Feb 24, 2020
BOSTON (Reuters) – The former men’s tennis head coach of the University of Texas at Austin was sentenced on Monday to six months in prison after admitting he accepted $100,000 in bribes as part of a vast U.S. college admissions fraud scheme.
Michael Center, 55, is the second coach to be sentenced for his role in a high-profile college admissions scandal in which wealthy parents sought to help their children gain admission to universities through bribery and entrance exam cheating.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns declined Center’s request for a non-prison sentence, saying his conduct had impugned the public’s confidence in the integrity of what should be a merit-based college admissions system.
“This is a case where society has an interest in punishment,” Stearns said.
Prosecutors had sought a shorter sentence for Center than he may have otherwise faced, citing his cooperation in the ongoing investigation, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”
That probe has since March has resulted in charges against 53 people in the case, including “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin, who is fighting the charges, and “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, who was sentenced last year to 14 days in prison after pleading guilty.
As part of his sentence, Center must also forfeit $60,000. In court, Center apologized for his conduct, saying he “will never do something like this again.”
Center pleaded guilty in April to a conspiracy charge related to bribes that prosecutors said he took to help a wealthy father secure his son’s admission at the school as a fake tennis recruit.
The father was a client of California college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, who prosecutors say received $25 million from wealthy parents to bribe coaches and university administrators at elite schools on their behalf.
Singer pleaded guilty in March 2019 on the same day that authorities unveiled charges against Center and most of the other defendants, and is cooperating with the investigation.
Prosecutors said Singer flew to Austin in 2015 and gave Center $60,000 in cash in exchange for designating his client’s son as a tennis recruit, even though he had limited tennis experience.
Prosecutors said he accepted another $40,000 in bribes directed to the University of Texas tennis program as donations.