Parents sent to jail for inflating daughter’s test scores in order to get into Duke

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marcia Abbott graduated from Duke in 1981, and she and her husband went to illicit ends in an attempt to help their daughter follow in her footsteps. 

Marcia Abbott and her husband Greg Abbott met William Singer in 2018, amidst "one of the worst chapters of their lives." The couple shelled out more than $100,000 to him from a family foundation as part of a scheme to inflate their daughter’s standardized test scores in hopes she could go to Duke, which admits about 7% of overall applicants

“My husband and I were both motivated by good intentions...but this does not excuse our actions,” Marcia Abbott told the judge Tuesday before their sentencing hearing, NBC Boston reported

Now they’re going to jail for a month each for mail fraud as part of the largest college admissions case ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

Operation Varsity Blues involved more than 200 agents and entangled more than 30 parents who have now been charged, exposing a hotbed of high-powered elites paying off coaches and test prompters to get their children into elite colleges through the “side door.” A “Desperate Housewives” star will soon be behind bars while a “Full House” actress and her fashion designer husband have pleaded not guilty to allegations of paying to get their daughters into college through the crew team. 

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag declined to comment on the Abbott’s sentencing specifically.

“In general, I think it’s important to remember that this case represents a very small number of the millions of students applying to college each year,” he wrote in an email Tuesday night. “Admissions offices, secondary schools and families overwhelmingly go through the process with integrity.”

The Abbotts paid $125,000—less than two years’ cost of attendance at Duke—to have their daughter’s ACT and two SAT subject tests corrected by a proctor. 

They both pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in May, and a court sentenced them each to one month in prison, one year of supervised release, 250 hours of community service and a $45,000 fine.

In the wake of the national scandal, Guttentag’s office reviewed admissions decisions for recruited athletes from the last five years and found no anomalies, he explained. All the athletes were on their respective rosters and legitimate participants. 

“To some degree the admissions process is dependent on trust among all parties—schools, teachers, colleges, counselors, students and testing agencies,” Guttentag wrote. “We always keep our eyes open for things that don’t add up, but unfortunately there’s no perfect way to detect or eliminate fraud.”

The dean wrote that, although his office is always looking for ways to improve the process, he does not foresee any major changes in the wake of the scandal. 

When asked how the scandal has changed his view of admission as someone who oversees the process at an elite university, Guttentag wrote that he tries not to let unusual cases color his view of the process as a whole.

“Well, I’m disappointed of course, but these are outliers,” he wrote. 

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, declined to comment on the couple’s sentencing. 

Neither Guttentag nor Schoenfeld would comment on the Abbott’s individual admissions case, including whether or not the daughter applied to Duke. 

Singer has pleaded guilty to a handful of crimes, including racketeering conspiracy and money laundry conspiracy. 

Greg Abbott was the Chairman and CEO of International Dispensing Corporation before stepping away in March. Marcia Abbott was previously a magazine fashion editor.

According to the Washington Post, the two were separated at the time of the incident, and they say that their daughter did not know about the fraud. CNN reported that she was diagnosed with Lyme disease and her brother was battling a drug addiction. The fraud boosted their daughter’s ACT score to a 35 out of 36, and she was given a 710 on the English literature SAT Subject Test and a perfect 800 in math. 

“To all those souls who struggle every day to put food on the table and get their kids access to college, I apologize for any sense of resentment or inequity my actions provoked, and humbly ask forgiveness,” Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to the court, according to the Washington Post

Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham



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