BOSTON – In a different twist in the nation's college admissions scandal, a woman from Newport Beach, California, was charged Monday and agreed to plead guilty to paying $9,000 to have someone take online classes for her son so he could graduate from Georgetown University.
Karen Littlefair is the 53rd person charged with crimes in the nation's sweeping college admissions case involving Rick Singer, but her case stands out from the other 35 parents charged. She is the first parent charged in the "Varsity Blues" scandal in a cheating plot involving a student already enrolled in college rather than one seeking admission.
In a deal with prosecutors, Littlefair, 57, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The date of her plea hearing in Boston federal court was not set.
She is the wife of Andrew Littlefair, president and CEO of Clean Energy Fuels. He was not charged in the case.
Prior to Littlefair, prosecutors had only targeted wealthy parents who paid Singer, a college admissions consultant from Newport Beach, to either tag their children as fake athletic recruits or have someone cheat on their college entrance exams to get them admitted into prestigious universities.
Littlefair admitted paying $9,000 to Singer's Edge College & Career Network – known as "The Key" – for an employee to take four online classes at both Georgetown and Arizona State University in place of her son. The fraudulently earned grades and credits were submitted to Georgetown to facilitate his graduation in May 2018, prosecutors said.
Although conspiracy to commit wire fraud carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors recommended Littlefair receive a sentence of four months in prison followed by one year of supervised release and pay restitution and a $9,500 fine.
Kenneth Julian, Littlefair's attorney, told USA TODAY his client has "taken the earliest opportunity to take responsibility for her conduct."
Georgetown spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak said the university became aware of potential misconduct related to a graduated student's online coursework during an internal investigation initiated after the Justice Department announced the college admissions case in March.
Dubyak said the school is implementing several measures to safeguard the security and identity of online course participants. Littlefair's son could have his degree revoked as a result of the cheating.
“When the university learns of a potential serious violation of the Honor System after a student has graduated, the Honor Council will investigate and adjudicate the case and may recommend sanctions up to and including the revocation of the student’s degree," Dubyak said.
Georgetown, at the center of multiple cases in the cheating scandal, rescinded the admissions of two students whose entry to the school was connected to former tennis coach Gordon Ernst. Prosecutors said he pocketed money from Singer to get students accepted as fake tennis recruits.
Of the 53 defendants charged in the college admissions scandal, 30 pleaded guilty. Thirteen parents and one college coach have been sentenced. Only one parent has avoided prison time, and the longest sentence has been five months.
Reach Joey Garrison and on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College admissions scam twist: Georgetown mom pleads guilty to online class cheating