BOSTON — Toby MacFarlane, a former real estate and title insurance executive from California, was sentenced to six months in prison Wednesday for paying $450,000 to get his daughter and son admitted into the University of Southern California as fake athletic recruits.
It marks the longest prison sentence so far handed down among 13 parents and one college coach in the nation’s college admissions scandal.
U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton stressed that MacFarlane participated in the nationwide admissions scheme led by college consultant Rick Singer “not once, but twice,” taking seats at USC away from two deserving students.
He told MacFarlane his actions should be tolerated no more than a common thief’s actions, “because that’s what you are — a thief.”
“Higher education in this country aspires to be a meritocracy. Those who work the hardest or make the best grades rightfully get accepted into the best schools,” Gorton said. “You had the audacity and the self-aggrandizing impudence to use your wealth to cheat and lie your way around the rules that apply to everyone else.”
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Gorton also sentenced MacFarlane to two years of supervised release, 200 hours of community service and a $150,000 fine.
MacFarlane, 56, of Del Mar, California, must report to prison by Jan. 2. He did not comment to reporters outside the courthouse as he exited before quickly stepping into a nearby Starbucks. MacFarlane pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy charges in June.
Addressing the court, MacFarlane, himself a USC graduate, apologized to his family, friends, former business partners and his alma mater, as well as “all of the students who applied and didn’t get in.”
“I am truly sorry. I love that school and it is heartbreaking to me that I brought a shadow on it,” he said, adding he set a “terrible example” for his children. “They didn’t deserve this. I’m working to make it up to them and regain their respect.”
Gorton opted to impose a harsher sentence than called for in sentencing guidelines, citing the “fraudulent, deceitful” nature of MacFarlane’s conduct. The judge’s decision could be a preview of how he will approach other parents who go before him — including actress Lori Loughlin — who have pleaded not guilty.
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MacFarlane, a former senior executive at WFG National Title Insurance Company, made two separate payments of $200,000, one in 2014 and on in 2017, to the sham nonprofit operated by Singer. Singer, in turn, facilitated his children’s admissions into USC through bribes to one current and two former USC employees. MacFarlane also made a $50,000 payment to USC athletics.
The first transaction involved the admission of MacFarlane’s daughter into USC as a fake soccer recruit. He then paid Singer again to admit his son into USC posing as a basketball recruit.
“The defendant knew what he was doing was wrong. He knew it wasn’t accepted at the school,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told the judge. “So what does he do? He does it again with his son.”
Rosen said MacFarlane deserved prison because he was the first parent who paid into Singer’s “side-door” recruitment scheme twice. He asked the judge to “send a message” as a result.
MacFarlane’s defense attorney, Ted Cassman, sought a lighter sentence, arguing his client was less culpable than other parents sentenced in the admissions scheme. Unlike other parents, he said MacFarlane did not seek out Singer for cheating but for his consulting services.
He said MacFarlane already suffered “swift and severe” collateral consequences from his conduct. He also pointed to MacFarlane’s divorce, which separated his family and pressured him to buckle to Singer’s offer.
“It was during this period that Mr. Singer offered an easy way out,” Cassman said. “And foolishly and tragically, Mr. MacFarlane took the easy way out.”
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The toughest prison sentence previously ordered was five months for Agustin Huneeus, a Napa Valley, California winemaker. Huneeus, who agreed to pay Singer $300,000 is the only defendant to take part in both the recruitment scheme and Singer’s plot to cheat on college entrance exams. U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani handed down the sentence of Huneeus and 11 other parents while Judge Douglas Woodlock sentenced one other parent.
Twenty-nine defendants, including 19 parents, have either pleaded guilty in court or agreed to plead guilty to charges in the historic admissions case.
Igor Dvorsiky, a former administrator for the ACT and SAT, pleaded guilty in court Wednesday to racketeering charges for accepting nearly $200,000 in bribes to opening a private school he operated in Los Angles for cheating in Singer’s scheme. He admitted to opening it on 11 occasions, involving 20 students, for cheating.
Reach Joey Garrison and on Twitter @joeygarrison.
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