Venture capitalist gets 6 months in college admissions cheating scandal

Manuel Henriquez, former chairman and CEO of Hercules Capital, paid more than $400,000 in the scheme.
Image: Manuel Henriquez
Manuel, right, and Elizabeth Henriquez leave the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on April 3, 2019.Jessica Rinaldi / Boston Globe via Getty Images file

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By Phil Helsel

The founder of a California venture capital firm was sentenced to six months in prison Wednesday for paying more than $400,000 in a college admissions cheating scheme to boost his daughters' exam scores and get one admitted to a university falsely as a tennis recruit.

Manuel Henriquez, who founded Hercules Capital, said in a letter to the judge that he was ashamed and acknowledged what he did was "wrong, illegal, unfair, and hurtful, especially to the many honest college applicant students and parents."

Henriquez and his wife, Elizabeth Henriquez, were accused of paying the money to have their daughters' SAT exams corrected to boost their scores and to have one of the daughters admitted to Georgetown University as a purported tennis recruit even though she did not play competitively.

"There is no perfect way to express how broken I feel in my heart and soul,” Manuel Henriquez said in a videoconference hearing, according to The Associated Press.

Henriquez pleaded guilty in October to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

His wife, who had also pleaded guilty, was sentenced to seven months in prison in March.

Prosecutors acknowledged in court documents that Henriquez "was a less active participant in the mechanics of the fraud than his wife."

They were among more than 50 people who have been charged in the scheme masterminded by William "Rick" Singer, authorities said.

The sweeping scandal uncovered in an FBI investigation called "Operation Varsity Blues" involved wealthy parents paying to have their children's exam scores fraudulently boosted or having them admitted to universities as purported athletes.

In court documents, Henriquez' attorneys said he was fully aware there was cheating going on with his daughters' entrance exams, but that he believed the $400,000 paid to Singer's sham charity would be donated to Georgetown's tennis program and to disadvantaged youth.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen said it “strains credulity” that Henriquez would believe that and accused him of refusing to fully accept responsibility for his actions and attempting to present a “sanitized version of the conduct to the court.”

After the couple's daughter was admitted to Georgetown, Singer made payments to the school's then-tennis coach, Gordon Ernst, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Ernst was charged and pleaded not guilty after he was accused of pocketing $2.7 million in bribes. He had left Georgetown before the criminal charges were filed and after an internal school investigation questioned his recruits, the university has said.

Singer pleaded guilty and wore a wire for the FBI. Actor Felicity Huffman was charged, pleaded guilty and served 11 days of a 14-day sentence. Actor Lori Loughlin and her fashion-designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, pleaded guilty but have not been sentenced.

In his letter to the judge, Henriquez wrote, "I am ashamed of my actions of putting myself and my family over all the children and parents who played by the rules." He asked other parents and their children to forgive him.

He portrayed his family as having been destroyed by the actions of he and his wife: Their children's lives were uprooted, their mental health was affected and their mother went to prison. He said his marriage is on the verge of collapse.

Henriquez resigned as chairman and CEO of Hercules Capital in March 2019 after charges were announced. He wrote in the letter that the loss of the company "was like losing my third child, and I lost that along with my professional reputation and integrity."

The Associated Press contributed.