Some defendants in college admission scam want charges reduced

Attorneys argue rackateering charges excessive

By Rob Frehse and Faith Karimi, CNN
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Attorneys say defendants in the college admission scandal are being charged with 'crimes typically reserved for the mafia and drug cartels.'

BOSTON - Attorneys for several defendants in the college admissions scandal want the racketeering charges against their clients dismissed, saying they are unwarranted, new case filings show.

In the motion to dismiss her indictment, an attorney for Lisa "Niki" Williams says the "case is an unprecedented attempt by the government to prosecute various individuals."

Williams, a former teacher's aide, is accused of accepting bribes to allow Mark Riddell to take SAT and ACT tests on behalf of other students. She has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.

She is being prosecuted with "crimes typically reserved for the mafia and drug cartels," attorney Eric Tennen said.

Attorneys for former University of Southern California water polo coach Jovan Vavic say their client is "a textbook example of prosecutorial overreach and frivolous use of RICO," according to a motion to dismiss his indictment.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act -- or RICO -- is a federal law that aims to combat organized crime in the United States.

"Although the defendants are a mere medley of coaches and administrators and two of William Rick Singer's employees, the government mislabels them as associates of, and co-conspirators with, a racketeering enterprise," the motion says.

Singer has confessed to helping wealthy parents cheat on standardized tests for their children in the college admissions scandal.

Williams' attorney said most of the defendants "are located in different states across the country and never met each other or agreed to engage in any conduct with one another, let alone illegal conduct."

Vavic and another USC official allegedly helped vineyard owner Agustin Huneeus Jr. facilitate his daughter's admission to USC. Vavic has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.

 

Others join motions to dismiss

 

Former Wake Forest University volleyball coach William Ferguson also filed Tuesday to join Vavic and Williams' motion to dismiss the indictment.

Prosecutors allege Ferguson agreed to designate the daughter of one of Singer's clients -- who had previously applied and been placed on the wait list at Wake Forest -- as a recruit for the women's volleyball team, facilitating her admission to the university.

In return, Singer directed $100,000 from one of his charitable accounts to Ferguson, according to the indictment. Ferguson has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.

 

Several parents sentenced

 

Seven parents who pleaded guilty to conspiracy fraud have been sentenced for their roles in the college admissions scam.

The punishments have ranged from five months in prison for Agustin Huneeus Jr., who participated in both the test-cheating and athlete-recruitment aspects of the scheme, down to no prison time for Peter Jan Sartorio, who paid $15,000 to have answers corrected on his daughter's exam.

One of the most high-profile defendants of the scam -- actress Felicity Huffman -- reported to federal prison in Dublin, California, on Tuesday to begin serving a two-week sentence.

The "Desperate Housewives" star is the first of more than 30 parents charged in the sprawling criminal case to begin serving a prison sentence. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying $15,000 to the scam's mastermind as part of a scheme to cheat on the SATs and boost her daughter's test scores.

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