BOSTON – The former Yale University women's soccer coach whose cooperation with authorities helped blow the lid off the nationwide college admissions bribery scandal by leading the FBI to the scheme's mastermind was sentenced Wednesday to five months in prison.
Rudy Meredith, head coach at Yale from 1995 until 2018, pleaded guilty in March 2019 to wire fraud for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to help students get into the elite Ivy League university as soccer recruits. In one case, the recruit did not play competitive soccer, prosecutors have said.
Federal prosecutors and Meredith’s defense lawyers had recommended no additional prison time beyond the one day he had already spent in custody. But U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf said Wednesday that Meredith’s greed and his victims warranted a stiffer sentence.
Wolf described the victims as the members of the Yale team who were “betrayed” by being cheated out of having better teammates, as well as unknown victims — young women who might have gotten into Yale had Meredith not decided to essentially sell slots on the team. Those unknown victims may have included women from disadvantaged backgrounds, the judge said.
“You committed a very serious crime and you didn’t have to do it,” Wolf said.
Before he was sentenced, Meredith, his voice shaking, issued an apology and said he had ruined his reputation and his career because he was driven by greed and the desire to provide for his family.
“It’s all my fault and I am going to pay for this for the rest of my life,” he said.
In addition to the prison term, Meredith was sentenced to a year of probation, fined $19,000 and ordered to forfeiti more than $550,000.
Investigators began looking into Meredith after an executive who prosecutors were targeting in an unrelated securities fraud scheme told them that the coach had offered to help his daughter get into the school in exchange for cash.
Authorities set up a sting in a Boston hotel room in April 2018 and recorded Meredith soliciting a $450,000 bribe from the father.
He helped investigators unravel the wider bribery scheme dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by leading them to William “Rick" Singer, the admissions consultant at the center of the scheme.
Investigators heard Singer's name for the first time when Meredith mentioned him during that meeting, prosecutors have said. Meredith began cooperating that same month with investigators, who recorded phone calls and an in-person meeting between himself and Singer that revealed the extent of the bribery scheme.
The judge said in court Wednesday that Meredith's cooperation was “truthful, complete and reliable," and he would have faced several years behind bars had he not cooperated.
Singer, who paid Meredith a total of $860,000 in bribes, later agreed to work with investigators himself and recorded his conversations with wealthy parents who paid big money to cheat their kids' way into school.
Singer has pleaded guilty to several charges including racketeering conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 4.
More than 50 people were ultimately convicted in the scandal, which involved bogus athletic credentials or rigged test scores to get children from wealthy families into elite U.S. universities. Among those convicted were actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli.
In asking for a sentence of time served followed by a year of supervised release, with 50 hours of community service, prosecutors' cited Meredith's assistance in breaking open the case.
“In short, Meredith’s cooperation was extensive and significant, leading to the government’s investigation of Singer and ultimately helping to secure the conviction of more than 50 parents, coaches, and Singer associates," prosecutors wrote in court documents.
Meredith's attorneys told the judge their client has been “publicly shamed and personally ashamed” and has made progress “toward re-establishing himself as a contributing member of society."
"His law-abiding life for the three and a half years since his guilty plea demonstrates his commitment to again play a positive role in society, as he did before he so uncharacteristically sacrificed his hard-earned reputation and good name and fell in with William Singer and his scheme," they wrote.
The last defendant linked to the investigation to go to trial was acquitted by jurors on all counts. A federal judge in September also ordered a new trial for former University of Southern California water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who was accused of taking more than $200,000 in bribes.
Two parents — John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz — are appealing their convictions, and a judge recently ruled that the two can remain out of prison while they challenge the convictions.
The longest sentence in the case so far has gone to former Georgetown University tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who got 2 1/2 years in prison for pocketing more than $3 million in bribes.