Test taker pleads guilty in Operation Varsity Blues case, low-end sentence recommended

A 36-year-old man pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering Friday in Boston. In the same federal courthouse as the others caught up in the Operation Varsity Blues scandal, Mark Riddell also agreed to forfeit $240,000. He is the latest adult to do so following fourteen parents who pleaded guilty earlier this week.


The professional test taker’s potential sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 may now be reduced to between 33 and 41 months in prison, as the prosecutors have recommended. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 18.

“I want to communicate to everyone that I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions. I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process,” Riddell said in a statement last month after the charges were announced.

Riddell may seem to be a bit player in the college admissions scandal but he was, in fact, a crucial player. His role was essential because, without his expert test-taking skills, the college applicants would not have met entrance qualifications. He admitted his part in the scheme as a test-taker to the judge in Boston.

He appeared in federal court in Boston Friday afternoon, and when asked to articulate his understanding of the charges, he said: “I’m being charged with conspiracy to commit fraud for cheating on the SAT and the ACT.”

His previously released statement by Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law also included a specific clarification that he was never involved in any act of bribery.

“I assume full responsibility for what I have done. I do, however, want to clarify an assertion that has arisen in the media coverage. I absolutely, unequivocally never bribed anyone, nor has the Information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged me with any form of bribery,” reads the statement, which was released the day after the charges were announced.


I’ve heard of people taking college admission tests for others before but in the context of one student agreeing to take a test for another student. I didn’t realize there is the possibility of an adult taking a test for a high school student because the test administrator is also corrupt. That discovery is an eye-opener. The 36-year-old Riddell must have taken the test privately because if he was in a room with other applicants (teenagers) he would have looked wildly out of place.

That is exactly what Riddell is accused of doing. He was hired by Rick Singer to either take the tests in place of the students or to correct answers after students took the tests. He flew to testing centers in Vancouver, Houston and West Hollywood. Singer, by the way, was paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per student for Riddell’s services. In the case of Felicity Huffman, for example, the actress paid $15,000 for Riddell to correct her daughter’s answers, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors have charged about 20 parents with paying for Riddell’s services. Riddell was paid $10,000 per exam. He was paid to take exams 25 times in total.

Prosecutors say Riddell, a counselor at the prominent athletics-focused boarding school IMG Academy for the past decade, sometimes took the tests for the students himself and in other instances corrected their answers. They say the scheme lasted from 2011 to February.

A former soccer player at Harvard University, Riddell not only had the ability to ace the exams, prosecutors say, but he could also achieve an appropriate score that would not raise the suspicion of the test companies.

Rosen, the assistant U.S. attorney, told the judge that Riddell first accepted cash payments from Singer to carry out the test-cheating scheme. Later, he accepted checks.

He said Rosen’s participation began by taking the test of student [sic] at a private school in Miami before later flying to Vancouver to take the test for the son of businessman David Sidoo. He used a fake ID to take the ACT for Sidoo’s son and received nearly a perfect score. The son was later accepted to the University of California-Berkeley.

Riddell would go on, Rosen said, to secretly take tests in Texas and California in addition to Florida.


(Editor’s note: The article should have indicated it was “Riddick’s participation,” not Rosen’s.)

Riddell expressed regret for his choices but went on to describe his corrupt behavior as only part of the “complete picture” of who he is.

“I will always regret the choices I made, but I also believe that the more than one thousand students I legitimately counseled, inspired, and helped reach their goals in my career will paint a more complete picture of the person I truly am,” Riddell said last month

While some of the teenagers may be sympathetic figures to onlookers of this whole scandal because they truly were in the dark as to the actions of their parents, the students participating in the testing part of the scandal have less credibility in claiming innocence it seems to me. Especially reading that one student in particular “celebrated” after the test with Riddick and a parent. In the case of David Sidoo’s son referenced above, Riddick not only provided him with a near perfect score on the ACT exam, but he also took the student’s graduation exams.

At this point, the name of the game is for the adults who are alleged participants in this scandal to make a deal with prosecutors. In Riddick’s case, it will surely make a difference in his sentencing.

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