Federal authorities were combing through the finances and phone records of a Miami businessman suspected of Medicare fraud when they came across a curious name: Rick Singer.
Philip Esformes, who was accused of farming out patients from his nursing homes to steal millions in bogus insurance claims, had sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to a foundation Singer controlled. And in text messages discovered on Esformes’ phone, the men discussed how one of Esformes’ sons had performed on his college entrance exams.
Only years later would authorities learn what Esformes had paid Singer to do: Slip his daughter into USC as a fake soccer player and fix his youngest son’s college entrance exam, according to statements a prosecutor made in court and sources familiar with the case.
Singer has said he struck similar deals with dozens more parents, an admission that has roiled higher education and implicated elites from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the Newport coast.
But in 2016, when agents seized the iPhone Esformes used to text Singer and obtained their messages, Singer was a peripheral, if curious, player in an enormous healthcare fraud investigation. The Esformes case marks the first time Singer is known to have crossed the radar of law enforcement.
Singer would run his admissions scam undisturbed until another team of investigators, working in Boston on an altogether different case, caught a second glimpse of his operation in 2018 and unraveled it.
Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts, unveiled that investigation in March. Fifty people were charged, including dozens of parents and coaches at such elite schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and USC, who were accused of selling spots that their schools reserved for recruited athletes.
Esformes has not been charged in the college admissions case. Convicted in April of paying and receiving kickbacks in connection with a federal healthcare program and other crimes, he faces decades in prison when a judge sentences him in September. His attorneys declined to comment.
Spokespeople for federal prosecutors in Boston and Miami declined to comment.
It is unclear how much federal authorities uncovered of Esformes’ dealings with Singer while investigating his case. But at his trial in March, a fraud expert used by the government to make sense of his finances testified that Esformes had made $400,000 in payments over several years to Singer’s foundation. At least some of the money was traced to Medicaid and Medicare funds, the expert testified.
Singer has since admitted that his Key Worldwide Foundation was little more than a sham used to launder money from clients and parcel out bribes to coaches, test proctors and bagmen.
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