BOSTON — Gordon Caplan, a prominent New York attorney, was sentenced Thursday in Boston federal court to one month in prison for paying $75,000 to have someone correct answers on his daughter's ACT test to inflate her score.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani also sentenced him to one year of supervision upon release, a $50,000 fine and 250 hours of community service.
Caplan, a corporate attorney and former partner at one of the world's largest international law firms, is the fourth parent sentenced in the nation's college admissions scandal. He will report to prison Nov. 6.
Talwani called Caplan one of the least culpable defendants in the entire case but nonetheless an "active" participant. She noted how Caplan threatened the ACT after the testing company objected to extra testing time received by his daughter to facilitate the cheating.
"There was a moment when you could have backed out of it, but chose instead to push ahead," Talwani said.
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Prosecutors sought eight months of prison, a $40,000 fine, and 12 months supervised release for Caplan, a resident of Greenwich, Connecticut, and New York. Caplan's defense team asked for no prison time, but no more than 14 days if incarceration is deemed warranted, matching what actress Felicity Huffman got for similar actions involving test cheating for her oldest daughter.
"What Mr. Caplan did is the exact thing Huffman did," Caplan's defense attorney Joshua Levy said.
But Talwani said Huffman backed out of moving ahead with the testing scheme for her younger daughter because she knew it was wrong. She said Caplan turned apologetic publicly only after he was caught.
Talwani's decision continues a pattern of lighter prison sentences for parents who participated in the test-cheating plot rather than the athletic recruitment scheme. The latter guaranteed a seat at a college and required greater bribe payments to Rick Singer, the mastermind of the admissions scheme.
Assistant U.S Attorney Eric Rosen argued Caplan, unlike other parents sentenced so far, never hired Singer, a college consultant, for legitimate services but instead approached him solely to cheat on the ACT.
“Caplan was not led into this by Rick Singer. He did not succumb to Rick Singer. He was never pushed or prodded into the scam,” Rosen said. "Despite having the resources to provide his daughter with all legal means for success, Gordon Caplan insisted on buying her the one thing that was not for sale — a near-perfect ACT score."
Caplan, with friends and family watching, addressed the judge, told the judge he was "deeply ashamed" of his actions and accepted responsibility. He called engaging Singer "the worst decision of my life."
"I failed. I failed my daughter. I failed my wife. I failed my parents. I failed my colleagues. And I failed the profession that I love," Caplan said. “This was not a victimless crime. The real victims of this crime were the kids and parents who play by the rules in the college admission scandal."
Caplan addressed reporters on his way out of the courthouse, saying he respected the judge's decision. "I am deeply and profoundly sorry."
Gordon Caplan, a prominent New York attorney at an international law firm, tells reporters he’s “profoundly sorry” for his actions after getting sentenced in Boston federal court to 1 month in prison for paying someone $75K to fix his daughter’s ACT. pic.twitter.com/QIo22eJjcN
— Joey Garrison (@joeygarrison) October 3, 2019
Caplan was let go as co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in April after being charged in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions scandal. His law license in New York is currently suspended.
Last week, Talwani sentenced two parents who took part in Singer's recruitment scam, Devin Sloane and Stephen Semprevivo, to four months in prison. The two fathers admitted to paying $250,000 and $400,000 to Singer, respectively. Huffman, the only parent sentenced for the test scheme, paid Singer $15,000.
Levy argued Caplan's life has been one of selfless acts and helping others and that he has "already suffered enormous consequences." He pointed to his lost position at the firm and said he will soon no longer be allowed to practice law for at least some period.
“We have to put that conduct in this context of this man’s life," Levy said, singling out work Caplan did for free for an Iranian woman who needed to visit the U.S. for eye surgery during President Donald Trump's travel ban. “She can see today because of what Gordon Caplan did.”
Levy said Caplan accepted responsibility for his crimes, stressing how he was the only parent in the case who addressed reporters outside the courthouse after he pleaded guilty.
"He screwed up. He committed a crime. He has owned it," Levy said.
The judge said she did not factor Caplan's occupation as a lawyer into sentencing despite the government arguing that he "betrayed" the profession. But she also dismissed the "collateral damage" of Caplan perhaps losing his ability to continue practicing law. She said the same is true for low-income felons who have to check a box the next time they seek employment.
“It’s a concern for all felony convictions," Talwani said.
In May, Caplan pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. He admitted to making a $75,000 contribution in December 2018 to Singer's nonprofit, The Key Worldwide Foundation, after the testing scheme was executed at a testing center in Los Angeles. Singer's associate Mark Riddell, a private school counselor from Florida, flew to California and corrected answers on his daughter's ACT exam while acting as a test proctor.
Caplan asked Singer to make sure her daughter got a score of 32 out of 36 on the ACT. Her previous high score was 22. But before a score came back, the ACT notified Caplan in January it denied her daughter's accommodations for extra testing time. It prompted Caplan to tell Singer he was getting lawyers involved to challenge the ACT's decision.
Caplan started talking to Singer by phone in June 15, 2018, after prosecutors started listening to Singer's calls via wiretap.
Singer told Caplan the cheating scheme is the "home run of home runs" and that it "works every time." Both men laughed. Later, Caplan told Singer that he was only worried about getting caught.
"To be honest with, I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished."
The next sentencing in the college admissions scheme is Friday when Agustin Huneeus Jr., a Napa Valley winemaker, faces the judge. He's admitted to taking part in both of Singer's schemes — paying $50,000 to Singer to engineer an SAT cheating scheme and later agreeing to pay $250,000 to have his daughter classified as a water polo recruit at the University of Southern California to get her accepted.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College admissions scam: Gordon Caplan sentenced to 1 month in prison