Martin Fox, youth coach ensnared in college admissions scandal, sentenced to three months in prison

Matthew Ormseth
·4 min read
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 25: Martin Fox, president of a private tennis academy in Houston, leaves following his arraignment at Boston Federal Court on March 25, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. A dozen coaches, athletic directors and test proctors are being arraigned in relation to the college admissions scandal on Monday. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images) ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD **
Martin Fox leaves a courtroom in Boston after his arraignment on March 25, 2019. He was sentenced Friday to three months in prison and three months of home confinement. (Scott Eisen / Getty Images)

Martin Fox, a Texas youth sports coach who paid off university coaches and a test proctor in a cash-for-admissions scheme that defrauded some of the country’s most elite schools, was sentenced Friday to three months in prison and three months of home detention.

Fox was also ordered to pay a $95,000 fine, complete 250 hours of community service and remain on supervised release for 15 months after serving his prison term.

Fox, a resident of Houston, had pleaded guilty last November to racketeering conspiracy. He admitted serving as a middleman between William “Rick” Singer, the Newport Beach college consultant at the heart of the scheme, and several university coaches and a teaching assistant whom Singer sought to bribe.

In 2014, Fox offered Michael Center, then a tennis coach at the University of Texas-Austin, $80,000 to $100,000 to recruit a child of one of Singer’s clients, despite the fact he didn’t play tennis competitively, a prosecutor wrote in a sentencing memo. The client isn’t named in the memo, but The Times previously identified him as Chris Schaepe, a well-known venture capitalist.

Schaepe transferred more than $500,000 in stock to a foundation overseen by Singer, who paid Fox and Center $100,000 each. Schaepe, who has since been ousted from his firm, Lightspeed Venture Partners, hasn’t been charged with a crime, and he has maintained he knew nothing of the illegal deal brokered between Singer, Fox and Center. Singer and Center have pleaded guilty to various federal offenses; Singer is awaiting sentencing, while Center served out a six-month prison in October.

Fox helped Singer pull off a similar recruiting scam at the University of San Diego, the prosecutor, Kristen Kearney, wrote in her memo. And in 2015, the memo says, he introduced Singer to Lisa “Niki” Williams, a teaching assistant at Jack Yates High School in Houston. Singer arranged for the children of his clients — most of whom lived in California — to get permission to take their ACT and SAT entrance exams in Williams’ classroom. In exchange for bribes, Williams, who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, allowed Singer’s Harvard-educated accomplice, Mark Riddell, to provide the children the right answers or to simply correct their responses after they’d finished.

Fox, Singer’s go-between with Williams, helped arrange four rigged tests, according to the prosecution memo. For the first, he was paid $104,000; for the second, third and fourth, he was paid $25,000 each. Yet he typically passed Williams just $5,000 to $10,000 per test, Kearney wrote. Williams is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 21.

On Friday, in a court appearance held via videoconference, Kearney described Fox as holding a “vital role” in Singer’s operation, complicit in both the athletic recruiting and the test-fixing scams.

“He understood how the entire scheme worked,” she said.

Kearney said that Fox, who mentioned to probation authorities about having a comfortable upbringing, took part in the scheme not out of necessity but greed. He was previously convicted in state court of a felony stemming from a scam involving Continental Airlines tickets, she wrote in the memo. And he had asked Singer, in phone calls intercepted by the FBI, to lie to Internal Revenue Service agents performing an unrelated audit, the memo says.

For his part, Fox told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani he was ashamed of his crimes and “felt bad” raising through his lawyers a host of health issues that they said were so dire he should be spared incarceration.

“I don’t want people to think I’m trying to get out of anything,” he said in a slight Texas drawl.

Talwani, after reviewing confidential medical records for Fox, said she found his attorneys weren’t exaggerating the severity of his condition. Still, noting Fox had previously been convicted of a felony and still hadn’t found “the straight and narrow,” Talwani decided his crimes merited a prison term, albeit one shorter than the six months the prosecution had requested.

“This was an act of greed,” she said. “Mr. Fox not only took steps to help himself, but took steps to entwine other people in this mess.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.