A former athletics official at the University of Southern California pleaded guilty Friday in an admissions scandal for allegedly helping students cheat their way for acceptance into the prestigious college.
Donna Heinel, who was USC’s senior associate athletic director, pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud as part of a plea agreement, prosecutors said in a news release Friday.
“She did the honorable thing and took responsibility for her actions today,” Nina Marino, Heinel’s attorney, told CNN in a phone interview.
Heinel is one of two USC athletic directors alleged to have been involved in a racketeering conspiracy to cheat prospective students’ admission into the university. She was fired in March 2019 over her alleged role in the scheme.
At least 50 people — including Hollywood stars, top CEOs, college coaches and standardized test administrators — were accused of taking part in the scheme to cheat on tests and admit students to leading institutions as athletes, regardless of their abilities.
William Rick Singer, the plot’s accused mastermind, allegedly told prospective clients that he created a “side door” for wealthy families to get their children into top US colleges. Singer was paid roughly $25 million by parents to help their children get into the schools, the US attorney said.
Evidence against Heinel included an audio recording in which Singer can be heard saying, “Donna Heinel at USC to help Audrey get in through crew.” Another recording points to Singer highlighting Heinel’s ability to help another student get into USC.
Heinel’s name was also mentioned several times in audio that was used as evidence in the trials of two separate parents, John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz, who paid Singer hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their children into prestigious universities including USC, Stanford and Harvard, court records show.
A federal jury last month found Abdelaziz and Wilson guilty of all accusations, which included various fraud and bribery charges.
The honest services wire fraud charge against Heinel can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. She’s scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on March 11.
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