Mom who paid $6.5 million in college scandal says Rick Singer duped her

Yusi Zhao's mother says the ringleader of the admissions scheme was just as surprised as she was when Zhao got into Stanford.
Feds Allege Nationwide College Admissions Bribery, Cheating Plot
William Rick Singer enters federal court in Boston on March 12.Jessica Rinaldi / Boston Globe via Getty Images file

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By Alex Johnson

The Chinese family that made the biggest payment to the ringleader of the college admissions scandal said Thursday that they were duped and that the $6.5 million payment was actually made weeks after the young woman was admitted to Stanford University.

The mother of the student, Yusi Zhao, who is from China, hasn't been charged. In a statement released through the family's attorney, Zhao's mother, who is identified only as "Mrs. Zhao," said Yusi Zhao was accepted by Stanford "through ordinary channels" on March 31, 2017 — three weeks before she made the $6.5 million payment, thinking it was a charitable donation.

The statement said William Rick Singer of Newport Beach, California, whom the Zhao family consulted for advice on getting into prestigious U.S. universities, was "surprised" to hear of Yusi Zhao's acceptance. It was only later that Singer ask Mrs. Zhao to make a donation to Stanford through his foundation, the statement said.

The $6.5 million payment was made on April 21, 2017, in the belief that it would be passed along to Stanford as a donation, the statement said.

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"The donation is in the same nature as those that many affluent parents have been doing openly to prestigious universities," according to the statement.

Stanford said Wednesday that it never got the money.

Singer, 58, pleaded guilty to four felonies in March and has been cooperating with investigators.

About 50 other people, including the actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, are under federal indictment in connection with the scheme, under which Singer has acknowledged having solicited large donations from wealthy people to boost their children's chances of getting into universities like Stanford, Yale and Georgetown.

Huffman and 13 other defendants are expected to plead guilty, according to the Justice Department. Loughlin and her husband have pleaded not guilty.

The alleged scam focused on portraying students as athletes who were recruited to play a sport, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college entrance exams, according to the indictment.

"Since the matters concerning Mr. Singer and his foundation have been widely reported, Mrs.Zhao has come to realize she has been misled, her generosity has been taken advantage of, and her daughter has fallen victim to the scam," according to the statement.

"Both Mrs. Zhao and Yusi have been shocked and deeply disturbed by what have transpired," it said.

Rich Schapiro contributed.