Editor's note: This story was updated on December 4, 2019.
Former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer was sentenced in mid-June to one day in prison (time served), six months of electronically monitored home confinement and a $10,000 fine. Vandemoer was one of 50 parents, coaches and others charged March 12 in a nationwide admissions fraud scheme masterminded by California college counselor William “Rick” Singer. Stanford fired him that same day.
Vandemoer immediately pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and was the first defendant to be sentenced. In handing down Vandemoer’s sentence, U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel described him as “the least culpable” of the defendants. Vandemoer did not personally profit from his crime but accepted donations on behalf of the sailing program.
Prosecutors had asked for a 13-month sentence, arguing that Vandemoer’s actions “deceived and defrauded” Stanford and “validated a national cynicism over college admissions by helping wealthy and unscrupulous applicants enjoy an unjust advantage.” Stanford filed a victim-impact statement in the case but did not take a position on sentencing.
Singer directed three donations totaling $770,000 to the sailing program. A student associated with one of the donations but not with the sailing team has been expelled. The university asked the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, ’80, JD ’84, for guidance on how to redirect the $770,000 to another entity so the funds can be used for public good. On December 2, president Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a letter to the Stanford community that the AG’s office had recommended redirecting the funds “to an entity or entities supporting financially challenged high school students who are seeking financial support and enhanced preparation toward their college admission,” and that the university would do so shortly.
‘Admission of any applicant, student-athlete or not, cannot be bought, and no donor should ever be under the impression that it can.’
In his letter, Tessier-Lavigne also announced the results of an external review of Stanford’s policies and practices relating to athletic admissions. The review, conducted by international law firm Simpson Thacher and Bartlett, found no evidence of additional fraudulent activity regarding the admission of student-athletes, but identified several vulnerabilities that the university will move swiftly to address.
The investigation revealed that between 2009 and 2019, Singer approached seven Stanford coaches about potential recruits. None of the coaches other than Vandemoer agreed to support Singer’s clients in exchange for so-called donations, and the review noted that the rigor and independence of Stanford’s admissions process appears to have limited Singer’s ability to manipulate it. But there was no policy ensuring that coaches would bring Singer’s efforts to the attention of others. The investigators recommended that Stanford require coaches to notify Undergraduate Admission and the Office of Development if a potential student-athlete comes to their attention through a third-party recruiter or consultant. The university will implement that and all of the firm’s other recommendations, including:
- adopting a formal written policy codifying Stanford’s approach to donations and athletic recruits: “Admission of any applicant, student-athlete or not, cannot be bought, and no donor should ever be under the impression that it can,” Tessier-Lavigne said;
- adopting a written policy clarifying that fundraising results are not considered part of a coach’s performance evaluation;
- requiring that development officers independently verify the source and purpose of significant donations to the athletic department;
- enhancing training for coaches in the fundraising process and the new gift acceptance policies being developed; and
- improving communication and the sharing of information among coaches, athletics administrators, and the Office of Development, and requiring that, in addition to athletics personnel, a development officer meet with prospective donors.
The university had previously announced that it would modify its gift acceptance process by:
- increasing the regular education of development officers about the need to know prospective donors as well as their intermediaries, and the reason for a prospective gift or pledge;
- producing more written materials for development officers on what to look for when gifts or pledges are offered;
- forming a more systematic vetting process to validate the facts of a prospective gift or pledge before the gift is brought forward for acceptance; and
- forming a gift acceptance committee to handle unusual situations and to make suggestions for improvements.
Additional background information and university statements are available here.
Kathy Zonana, ’93, JD ’96, is the editor of Stanford.