Ex-Stanford Sailing Coach Gets First Sentence in College-Admissions Scam, Avoids Prison Time

By olivia.messer@thedailybeast.com (Olivia Messer)

Former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer was sentenced to two years of supervised release and six months of home detention on Wednesday, becoming the first of 50 defendants to be punished for their role in the college admissions scandal.

Vandemoer pleaded guilty in March to a racketeering conspiracy in which he accepted $610,000 in payments to facilitate the admission of students as sailing recruits to Stanford.

In addition to the home confinement and supervised release, Judge Rya Zobel ordered Vandemoer to pay a $10,000 fine.

Zobel noted that Vandemoer is likely “the least culpable” of the scandal’s cases because the money he received went to the sailing program instead of his own pockets. Zobel also reportedly cited the number of letters submitted to the court on behalf of Vandemoer as proof of his value to the community.

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Addressing the court on Wednesday, Vandemoer said: “I made a terrible mistake, and my mistake impacted those I care about the most.”

Federal prosecutors in Boston filed court documents in advance of the hearing in which they requested that the ex-coach to be given a 13-month sentence—what they called a “meaningful” prison term intended to help repair public confidence in the college admissions system and to punish Vandemoer for his “serious” crimes.

Vandemoer is just one of dozens of defendants to be ensnared by the FBI’s Operation Varsity Blues, which was announced in March when prominent coaches, parents, business executives, and Hollywood stars—including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin—were arrested for their alleged roles in schemes to pay their childrens’ way into elite universities.

“The crimes of the defendant and his co-conspirators confirmed, for many, the worst of what they had long suspected: that hard work and sacrifice matter less than money and the access it buys,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.

“His actions not only deceived and defrauded the university that employed him, but also validated a national cynicism over college admissions by helping wealthy and unscrupulous applicants enjoy an unjust advantage over those who either lack deep pockets or are simply unwilling to cheat to get ahead,” prosecutors wrote. “For those who participated in this conspiracy—the parents who paid the bribes, the students who benefited from them, and the coaches and administrators, like Vandemoer, who accepted them—the system was, in fact, rigged in their favor.”

Vandemoer’s lawyer Rob Fisher, by contrast, encouraged the judge to be lenient on his client because he’d already lost his job and health insurance, because he didn’t keep any of the money, and because he was working to “help the sailing program he loved,” according to a sentencing memorandum submitted by his legal team.

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Vandemoer’s involvement in the scheme was “the worst decision” he ever made, the documents claim, adding that the ex-coach “is fundamentally a decent family man who made a terrible mistake and has since worked hard to make amends for his error.”

“Vandemoer is before this court because in one instance he failed to live up to the high standards he set for himself and instilled in countless young people,” his lawyers wrote. “This is a mistake he regrets dearly and one that he is determined not to let define him or his life.”

Stanford fired Vandemoer in March when he pleaded guilty. In a victim-impact letter submitted to the judge on Monday, the university wrote that Vandemoer’s actions were “profoundly disappointing” and “undermined public confidence in the college admissions system and reflected negatively on Stanford and its hard-working, honest student-athletes.”

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