Mother charged in college bribery case pleads guilty

BOSTON (AP) — A California woman pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge Wednesday after authorities said she paid a company $9,000 to take online classes for her son at Georgetown University and then demanded a discount when he received a C.

Karen Littlefair, 57, pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The resident of Newport Beach, California, previously agreed to the plea in a deal with prosecutors. She is to be sentenced May 13.

The charge carries up to 20 years in prison, but prosecutors said they will recommend four months and a $9,500 fine.

Littlefair is among more than 50 people charged in a college admissions scandal that has ensnared dozens of wealthy parents. Many are accused of portraying their children as fake athletic recruits to get them into elite universities, while others allegedly paid to rig their children’s SAT or ACT exams.

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At the center of the case is college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, who is accused of orchestrating the scheme and pleaded guilty last year.

Prosecutors say Littlefair hired Singer’s company to take four online classes on behalf of her son so he could graduate from Georgetown in 2018. Three of the courses were taken through Georgetown, prosecutors said, while one was taken online at Arizona State University and then transferred to Georgetown. Littlefair paid a total of about $9,200.

Her son graduated from the private university in Washington, D.C., in May 2018. The school previously said it has the authority to revoke degrees if serious misconduct is discovered after a student graduates, but officials have not said whether they took action against Littlefair’s son.

A school spokesperson declined to comment further Wednesday.

In court documents, prosecutors said Littlefair worked with Singer and his employees to make sure the scheme worked.

When one of the classes required a video conference with a professor, Littlefair asked Singer to provide a stand-in for her son since he was scheduled to be out of the country, prosecutors said. An employee at Singer’s company agreed to have a “fellow male colleague” act as Littlefair’s son.

Littlefair later demanded a discount when Singer billed her for a portion of the work, authorities said. She complained that her son received a C in one of the classes and said “the experience was a nightmare!” Singer refused to provide a discount, saying the process “was a nightmare for all.”

Officials at Georgetown said they uncovered the misconduct in an internal review that began after authorities first announced the bribery case in March 2019.

Among those initially charged were former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who is accused of taking $2.7 million in bribes to designate at least 12 applicants as recruited athletes even if they didn’t play tennis. Ernst has pleaded not guilty.

Georgetown previously rescinded admissions to two applicants connected to the case.

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