University of Texas coach accused in college bribery scheme dismissed

By Matt Aufdenspring - Digital Managing Editor
KPRC2

Michael Center

HOUSTON - The University of Texas at Austin is one of eight universities involved in a national college admissions and testing bribery scheme, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

The accused ringleader -- William "Rick" Singer of Newport Beach, California -- is charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. 

Singer owned the Edge College & Career Network LLC, also known as The Key, and The Key Worldwide Foundation, the latter of which prosecutors claim is a purported charity.

READ: List of those involved in college admissions and testing bribery scheme

"Between roughly 2011 and 2018, wealthy parents paid Singer about $25 million in total to guarantee their children admissions to elite schools," U.S. attorney Andrew Lelling said.

Two Houstonians -- Lisa "Niki" Williams and Martin Fox -- are accused of accepting bribes.

"More specifically with respect to the SAT and ACT scheme, numerous parents paid Singer between $15,000 and $75,000 to have someone either take the exam for their child or to correct their child's answers afterward all to achieve a sufficiently high, pre-agreed score on the tests. Singer accomplished this by paying defendant Mark Riddell to take or correct the exams, and by bribing two exam administrators, defendants Niki Williams and Igor Dvorskiy, to allow this to happen on their watch," Lelling said.

A total of 33 parents and 13 coaches and associates of Singer's are involved in the scheme, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among parents accused of paying bribes to get their children into the above-listed universities.

Here's why the University of Texas at Austin is accused:

In 2015, Fox introduced Singer to Michael Center, head coach of the men's tennis team at the University of Texas at Austin.

The student, who was the son of one of Singer's clients, did not play tennis competitively, yet was purported to be a recruit for the UT tennis team, court records state.

According to the indictment, Singer paid Center $100,000 through the bribe, and Singer paid Fox $100,000.

The student's admission to the school was facilitated because of the bribe, the indictment says.

Center, 54, is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

VIDEO: Federal prosecutors discuss UT's connection to cheating scandal

Center was dismissed effective immediately from UT Wednesday. Associate head coach Bruce Berque takes over in the interim.

"After working with campus leaders to review the recent situation with Michael Center, we have decided to relieve him of his duties as our Men’s Tennis coach," Chris Del Conte, vice president and athletics director, said. "It’s a very difficult decision, and we are grateful for the years of service that he has provided, but winning with integrity will always be paramount at The University of Texas, and it was a decision that had to be made.

"I’ve met with our team and assured them that we will do everything in our power to support them," Del Conte added. "I also plan to reach out to all of our commitments, signees and their families immediately. I’m grateful for Coach Berque’s leadership during this challenging time. Our team is in the middle of a tremendous season, and I applaud them for how they’ve handled this situation, especially the way they responded in their match on Tuesday."

The University of Texas at Austin released a statement to KPRC2 Tuesday that read:

"Integrity in admissions is vital to the academic and ethical standards of our university. The University of Texas at Austin is cooperating with federal investigators and is concerned by the allegations raised, which run counter to the university’s values. Men’s Tennis Coach Michael Center was placed on leave as soon as we learned of the charges against him, which are being fully investigated. We are continuing to gather information and review our processes. Based on what we know at present, we believe this was an isolated incident in 2015 that involved one coach and no other university employees or officers."

Other universities involved include Wake Forest University, Yale University, Georgetown University, Stanford University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and the University of San Diego.

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