William “Rick” Singer, the man at the heart of the college-cheating scandal, grew up in the Chicago area, according to a longtime friend.
Ronald McKenna met Singer in 1989 when the two worked together at Sacramento State until 1992.
McKenna and Singer were working as assistants in the basketball program at Sacramento State, which is how they met and became longtime friends.
“He and I had a very good relationship based on mutual respect for each other,” McKenna told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday night.
The basketball assistant post was Singer’s full-time job at Sacramento State, but McKenna was working full-time as a high school guidance counselor at the time as well.
“The kids liked him because he was always straightforward with them,” McKenna said. “He was really good with students.”
Singer’s first company — according to McKenna — was called “Future Stars” and was a program in which Singer gave college advice to parents. McKenna had him come to the high school where he worked to give presentations.
“I was a counselor here in town and I had him go and do presentations for parents,” McKenna said. “He was good at it. Good at giving advice.”
McKenna has stayed friends with Singer since working with him between ’89-’92 at Sacramento State. They call each other on Christmas, as well as other times during the year to share good news.
“He’s a friend to my family and grandkids.” McKenna said. “I’ll call him with news [about the grandkids], and he’s very happy. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
Singer graduated in 1986 from Trinity University in San Antonio. He went on to a career in college admissions consulting, becoming one of Sacramento’s — and later southern California’s — most popular counselors for parents looking to get their high school kids into top colleges.
Somewhere along the way, Singer — who owns an admissions consulting firm called Key Worldwide — began conspiring with wealthy parents to pay bribes to get their children into prestigious schools, according to federal court documents. He pleaded guilty to federal charges of money laundering, racketeering, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
McKenna said the charges against Singer are “mind-boggling.”
“That’s not the Rick I’ve known for 30 years. I can’t put them together,” McKenna said.
But McKenna said he expects to continue to be friends with Singer, even in light of the allegations against him.
McKenna said he believes “the other Rick Singer” must have come out when Singer moved to southern California.
“That’s when the other Rick must have come out. Not the one I know.”