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Former Houston test administrator pleads guilty in college admissions scandal

Niki Williams, 46, took bribes to allow another person to cheat on ACT and SAT tests on behalf of students.
Image: Niki Williams
Niki Williams, from right, a college entrance exam administrator, arrives at federal court to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal in Boston last year.Steven Senne / AP file

A former Houston college admissions test administrator pleaded guilty Friday to taking bribes in a cheating scheme designed to inflate the scores used to determine whether prospective students got into universities, federal prosecutors said.

The guilty plea of Niki Williams is part of a massive college admissions cheating case that exposed how wealthy parents would pay to have their children's test scores increased, or to have them falsely admitted as student-athletes. The investigation announced last year was called "Operation Varsity Blues."

Williams, 46, a former employee of the Houston Independent School District, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud and honest services wire fraud and mail fraud, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement.

Williams worked at a high school and took bribes in the scheme, prosecutors said.

She allowed a man, Mark Riddell, to secretly take SAT and ACT tests in the place of children of parents who were clients of the scheme's mastermind, William "Rick" Singer, or to replace those students' answers with Riddell's corrected answers, prosecutors said. Williams would then submit the tests to the ACT or the College Board.

A request for comment from an attorney listed as representing Williams was not immediately returned Friday evening. The charge she pleaded guilty to carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, but prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence on the lower end of sentencing guidelines as part of a plea agreement.Prosecutors will also recommend one year of supervised release, a fine, forfeiture in the amount of $20,000 and restitution, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Riddell pleaded guilty last year but has not been sentenced yet. Singer has also pleaded guilty. Fifty people were charged in March 2019 after an FBI investigation. Some people were also charged later.

Among those who have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced were "Desperate Housewives" actress Felicity Huffman, "Full House" actress Lori Loughlin and Loughlin's fashion-designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.