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How Rick Singer went from Niles West grad to face of college bribery scandal

William "Rick" Singer yearbook photo | Facebook

The man at the heart of the nation’s biggest college-cheating scandal grew up in the city’s north suburbs before heading to college and eventually moving to California.

William “Rick” Singer — who admitted helping wealthy and famous parents pay bribes to get their children into elite universities — lived in north suburban Lincolnwood and attended Niles West High School from 1974 until 1978, according to current and former associates and school records.

Singer played baseball and football at Niles West, according to several people who knew him then. On Facebook groups for Niles West alumni, Singer was remembered for his outsized personality.

William Goren, also a class of ’78 graduate, recalled having a class with Singer and noted Singer’s charm.

“He was very, very engaging,” Goren told the Sun-Times.

Singer himself wrote to his class in a Niles West yearbook that he wanted to be remembered for “the outstanding personality I have been given, and being able to get along with others,” according to a photo a former classmate posted — and later deleted — on Facebook.

Entry by William Singer in a Niles West High School yearbook. | Facebook

Now, though, Singer is more likely to be remembered for what federal authorities have called the biggest college admissions scam they have ever prosecuted.

Singer couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

The scam, which Singer led, resulted in charges against 50 people on Tuesday, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

Wealthy parents are accused of paying college coaches and other insiders an estimated $25 million to ensure their children were admitted at such prestigious schools as Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.

Central to the scandal was Singer, founder of Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, California. Singer pleaded guilty on Tuesday, along with Stanford’s sailing coach John Vandemoer.

Parents paid Singer from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to make the parents’ children appear to be athletes to increase their chance of acceptance at the highly selective schools, prosecutors said. Singer also hired people to take college entrance exams for students and paid people off at testing centers to correct students’ answers.

William "Rick" Singer, front, founder of the Edge College & Career Network, exits federal court in Boston on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, after he pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

William “Rick” Singer, front, founder of the Edge College & Career Network, exits federal court in Boston on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, after he pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

After graduating from Niles West, Singer moved to Texas, where he attended Brookhaven Community College near Dallas.

Singer then attended Our Lady of the Lake, a Catholic University in San Antonio from 1982-1983. He eventually graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1986.

Singer moved to the Sacramento, California area after college and landed a job in 1987 teaching sports to students at Encina Prep High School and Arden Middle School. He was hired on a one-year teaching contract, which was not renewed the following year, a school spokeswoman said.

The Sacramento Bee reported at the time that Singer’s employment ended in 1988 when he was fired after complaints that he was abusive toward referees.

In 1989, Singer was hired as a coach and faculty member at Sacramento State and worked at the university until 1992, the school confirmed.

There, he met Ronald McKenna, who worked at the university while also working full-time as a high school guidance counselor in Sacramento. The two began a friendship that continues to this day.

“He and I had a very good relationship based on mutual respect for each other,” McKenna told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The kids liked him because he was always straightforward with them. He was really good with students.”

Singer’s first company — according to McKenna — was called Future Stars Counseling Services 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.

McKenna said Singer was good at presentations and giving advice to parents.

“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 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.

Contributing: Associated Press