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Who is William Rick Singer, Sacramento man accused in college admissions scam?

William Rick Singer, the man at the heart of the nationwide college admissions scandal that exploded Tuesday, appears to have gotten his start in the business helping high school kids in the Sacramento area navigate their way into college.

Singer, 58, a former Sacramento resident living in Newport Beach, was indicted along with two movie stars and dozens of other people in an elaborate scheme to bribe university admissions officers and sports coaches to gain slots in elite universities for the children of wealthy elite. Among other things, prosecutors said parents paid Singer as much as $75,000 to have fronts take the ACT and SAT college admissions tests for their children.

The Associated Press reported that Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday to multiple felonies, including racketeering conspiracy, in U.S. District Court in Boston. He was represented by well-known Sacramento defense attorney Donald Heller.

Prosecutors said Singer carried out his scheme through a company called the Edge College & Career Network LLC, also known as “The Key,” and a nonprofit called the Key Worldwide Foundation. Although the Key’s website lists its address as Newport Beach, the company has a Sacramento phone number. The nonprofit foundation — which prosecutors say was a conduit for paying bribes — bears a Sacramento address, according to filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Singer moved from the Sacramento area in 2012, according to real estate databases, but for many years was well-known on the region’s college-prep circuit, steering high school juniors and seniors through the application process, said Margie Amott, a college-admissions counselor in the Sacramento region.

“For a long time, he was the go-to person in Sacramento,” Amott said.

Singer, in a 1994 interview with The Sacramento Bee, said he filled a void left by overworked high school advisers. “It’s not that school counselors don’t want to help. It’s just that they often don’t have the time,” he said. At the time, he was running a business called Future Stars, which he later sold.

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Two of Singer’s employees living in Folsom were among the 50 people charged Tuesday: Steven Masera, 69, a former financial officer at the Edge; and Mikaela Sanford, 32, an employee of Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation. The indictment against Singer said the foundation was based in Newport Beach, although IRS records list a Sacramento address.

The website of Singer’s company in Newport Beach says the business operates in 81 cities and five foreign countries.

“Over the past twenty years Rick Singer and his team have coached, counseled and mentored over 90,000 adults personally and professionally and guided high school and college students on the admission process to either attain an undergraduate or graduate degree in every field imaginable,” the website says.

Amott said she was told Singer would tell parents he could get their child into the college of their choice. “Professional education consultants do not say, ‘I can get you into a specific, particular college,’ ” Amott said.

The Key’s website said Singer also worked as a “senior executive” at The Money Store and First Union Bank.

That appears to have been a stretch. Money Store veteran John Wagner told The Bee that Singer was “a mid-level manager” at the company before leaving in the late 1990s to pursue the college-prep business. The Money Store, once headquartered in the famous Ziggurat building in West Sacramento, was a consumer finance company that folded shortly after it was sold to First Union in the late 1990s.

Singer in 1988 was fired as boys basketball coach of Encina High School, with a district spokesman at the time only referring to it as a “personnel matter.” The Bee reported at the time that parents said Singer had an abusive nature toward referees.

Ron McKenna knew Singer, coached with him and called him every Christmas to catch up, including this winter.

McKenna valued Singer as a friend during their three seasons coaching together as basketball assistants at Sacramento State in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. He admired his ability to coach and recruit.

Now he wonders who William “Rick” Singer really was and is. A retired Sacramento-area basketball coach, McKenna told The Bee on Tuesday he was “stunned” to hear about a side of Singer that became national news.

“I can’t believe it,” McKenna said. “It’s not the Rick Singer I know. We started coaching together at Sac State in 1988 and traveled a lot together. We became good friends.

“It’s a total stunner. I remember him as a workaholic. He never did anything halfway. He did it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

McKenna also remembers Singer as someone who used to champion the underdog.

In the 1990s, Singer was the founder and president of Future Stars in Sacramento, an independent counseling service to help high school students get into college. This included a $1,200 fee charged to parents to help them and their child understand college entrance exams.

Singer counseled student-athletes at their homes, mostly with parents there to observe and learn the process. McKenna was a counselor at Kennedy High School in the 1990s and regularly met with Singer.

“I’d bring Rick in so he could present his program if any kids needed that sort of help,” McKenna said. “He counseled a lot of kids in Sacramento.

“He was the kind of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back to help, he was that generous. He was generous to a fault, even to strangers. And he was a great recruiter when we were at Sac State. He loved to go into places like East Los Angeles to recruit, and he’d get out there and play with prospects, talk their language.”

A graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio, Singer has degrees in English and physical education, a master’s in counseling and a doctorate in business and organizational management. McKenna said Singer enjoyed being fit, working out, and he especially liked coaching.

In 2014, a book penned by Singer titled “Getting In: Gaining Admission to the College of your Choice,” was published and made available on Amazon. The book’s description emphasizes the importance of establishing a “personal brand” to get into a top school.

The case also involves at least two celebrities, authorities said.

TV actress Lori Loughlin, known for her role on “Full House,” reportedly paid $500,000 in bribes to have her two daughters admitted to USC’s crew team. Another actress, Felicity Huffman, is also named.

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