Donna Heinel, a former athletics department official at USC, pleaded guilty on Friday in the college admissions bribery scandal, admitting she helped get students into the school by passing them off as elite athletes.
At a court hearing held remotely Friday, federal prosecutors in Boston told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani they would seek a prison sentence of between three and four years. As part of the plea deal she made with prosecutors, Heinel will forfeit nearly $300,000 she received as part of the admission scam, court records show.
Heinel’s decision to plead guilty to a fraud charge and forgo a trial marks a significant victory for the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which upended the elite ranks of higher education in 2019 when it unveiled a sprawling investigation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues. Dozens of wealthy parents, university coaches and others were charged in the case for allegedly working with the scheme’s admitted mastermind, William “Rick” Singer, to sneak undeserving kids into USC and other top schools.
Of the 57 people charged, Heinel was one of a remaining few who had maintained their innocence. Prosecutors portrayed Heinel, 60, as playing a crucial role in Singer’s operation. As a liaison between USC’s admissions office and the school’s vaunted athletics department, she was accused of hoodwinking admissions officials about children of Singer’s clients by presenting them as top-level athletes the school’s coaches wanted on their teams.
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