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Napa Valley Vintner Caught in Varsity Blues College Scandal Is Hefty Political Donor

Agustin Huneeus paid $50K to ensure daughter entry into USC; gave hundreds of thousands to CA Democrats

By Katy Grimes, March 14, 2019 4:18 pm

Agustin Huneeus Jr., 53, of San Francisco, was one of 33 parents charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud by hiring William “Rick” Singer to falsify SAT scores and high school athletic experience in a nationwide college admissions scandal. Huneeus Jr., is a Napa Valley vintner and son of Quintessa estate’s founder Agustin Huneeus.

Agustin Huneeus and his family has hosted swanky fundraisers for the political elite. In 2016, his family hosted a Democratic mega-donor lunch and wine pairing at their Quintessa Winery for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, with Google’s executive chairman Schmidt as the luncheon speaker.

The Crime(s)

Federal prosecutors allege Agustin Huneeus participated in the tax fraud and cheating scheme in 2017 and 2018 to ensure his daughter would be admitted to University of Southern California.

William Rick Singer, 58, of Sacramento and Newport Beach, Calif., owner of the Edge College & Career Network and CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation, was charged with racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Singer allegedly arranged with certain clients to disguise bribe payments as charitable contributions to theKey Worldwide Foundation, thereby enabling clients to deduct the bribes from their federal income taxes.


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“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said during his press conference announcing the $25 million federal bribery case, calling it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

“Huneeus allegedly conspired to bribe Donna Heinel, senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California, and Jovan Vavic, the water polo coach at USC, to help his daughter gain admission at the Los Angeles university as a water polo recruit, according to the indictment,” the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported. Huneeus paid $50,000 to the dubious non-profit Key Worldwide Foundation, the operation at the center of the cheating scandal run by William Rick Singer. Prosecutors are calling the Key Worldwide Foundation a “purported charity,” given that parents took a tax deduction on the money they paid to Key Worldwide Foundation.

In the indictment, Singer instructs Huneeus to send a $200,000 check to his foundation. “…you’ll get your letter, thank you, with your write off, tax ID write off stuff, and then Jovan [Vavic, the water polo coach] will call me and say, ‘Okay, this is how I want the money split,’ and so on and so forth. And that won’t happen until around April 1st.”

Huneeus acknowledged in the call that his daughter was not qualified to be a USC water polo recruit, and expressed concern, and asks Singer, “And is there any risk that this thing blows up in my face?” Singer replies, “Hasn’t in 24 years.”

On or about September 22, 2018, Singer advised Huneeus that since his daughter had not sent a photograph of her in water polo gear in time, he used a photograph of someone else in the profile.

(The Indictment is HERE) Agustin Huneeus is on page 96.

Big Money Political Donor

Agustin Huneeus and his family has been a popular big money-political donor to California’s Congressional Democrats from the San Francisco Bay Area, and Napa Valley. Since 1998, Huneeus made 37 contributions to Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Napa Valley), amounting to nearly $50,000. California Globe contacted Thomnpson’s office to ask if the Congressman had plans on returning Huneeus’s contributions since he tried to corrupt a venerable California institution.

UPDATE: Alex MacFarlane, Rep. Thompson’s Director of Communications responded back and said her records showed that all of the political contributions were from Agustin Huneeus, Sr. However, the records California Globe used at OpenSecrets.org do not identify if the political contributions were from Huneeus Sr. or Jr.; they all state the occupation as “Quintessa/Huneeus Vintners,” “Huneeus Winery,” “Vintner” or one or the other name.  Huneeus Jr., currently 53, was appears to be a part of the family business even back in 1998 when he was 32 – the date of the earliest political contribution. A Wine Spectator article from 2003 says Huneeus Jr. graduated UC Berkeley in 1989. the Huneeus website has taken down his bio.

Rep. Mike Thompson

The Huneeus family has made seven contributions to House Speaker Nancy Pelois (D-San Francisco), totaling $18,300, and $10,000 to Pelosi’s political action committee, PAC to the Future. California Globe also contacted Speaker Pelosi’s office to ask if she had plans on returning Huneeus’s contributions, but phone calls were not returned.

Huneeus also made:

  • six  contributions to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-San Francisco), totaling $21,600.
  • six large contributions to the Democratic Congressional Committee totaling $118,500, as well as contributions totaling $33,200  to the Democratic National Services Corporation.
  • a $500 contribution to Amanda Renteria, former political director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and a Democratic candidate for Governor of California, who lost the primary on June 5, 2018.
  • a $1000 contribution to Michael Eggman, a Democratic candidate for California’s 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House. Eggman unsuccessfully tried to unseat Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.
  • $1,000 contribution to Jessica Morse, a Democratic candidate who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), of California’s 4th Congressional District.
  • contributions of $5,000 to Hillary Clinton, and $2,500 to Barack Obama.

Defendants in the Varsity Blues college scandal include CEOs, actresses, university athletic coaches, college exam administrators, and wealthy parents.

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15 thoughts on “Napa Valley Vintner Caught in Varsity Blues College Scandal Is Hefty Political Donor

  1. Great stuff — can’t get enough of reading these profiles. Even better than watching “perp walks.”
    Thank you Katy Grimes and Ken Kurson and California Globe.

  2. Indeed, Showandtell, I want to see how many of these corrupt people voted for, and contributed to, the Democrat Party.

  3. I never post comments online, but this deserves a special notice. I’m a lyft driver in chicago and last year I gave this jerk a ride to the airport. He was hosting a wine event at a super-rich golf club in winnetka on the north shore. I was called there to give Agustin a ride to O’hare airport. After making me wait more than 10 minutes, he came out to the car and says, “I’m still signing bottles, if you can wait 15 minutes, I will give you a really good tip.” So i waited a really long time for this guy to come (when i could have been giving rides) and then i drive him to the airport. We talked a little about him being a “vitner” (i remember he was suprised i knew the word!). He says, “I sell bottles of wine for $200 each” and “I just made $50-60K tonight.” I.e. selling autographed $200 bottles of wines by the case to the wives of CEOs. So anyway, you know whats coming next — I get this guy to the airport double-quick so he can catch his late flight — and then he stiffs me on the tip. Heh, go figure. Seems like a worthy comeuppance to me.. Spend that money cheating to get your lazy daughter into USC and screw the lowly little Lyft driver busting his butt to make a buck. Sometimes there is a little justice in the universe…

    1. Edward….sorry to hear about your experience, but not surprised. I worked for his family for 10 years. Jr. is an entitled, arrogant dumbass. He is despised in Napa by his employees and anyone he comes in contact with. He’s an asshole that was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and his head up his ass. He’ll look great in an orange jumpsuit!

  4. Having worked for Quintessa Winery & the Huneeus family for 10 years , I can honestly say I am not surprised by what Jr. has done. Huneeus Jr. has been know for years as being an arrogant, entitled dumbass in Napa Valley ever since he took over his fathers business and before. He is despised by former employees and business associates. Truly, the worst & most arrogant, rude moron I have ever worked for. He treated his employees like dirt & I’ve no doubt that there are many, many in Napa & the wine industry that are having a good laugh as to his fate. He and his family deserve zero sympathy and all of the misery that will be raining down on them for years. This is karma in it’s most beautiful incarnation.

  5. What do his political contributions have to do with this situation? Republican or Democrat, the guys and unethical law breaker.

    1. I only reported the contributions I found. It wouldn’t matter if he was a big Republican donor – the outcome is the same.

  6. Entitlement at its finest. It comes in all packages sizes, political parties and races. Let’s not turn this into a republican vs democratic because you can find both on the list. The real losers in all this are their kids on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin so I won’t.

  7. Agustin Huneeus Jr. arrest effects all of us in the Napa Valley and we all have to pay for it! As a tour guide and driver for nine years in the Napa Valley I and other drivers and concierges are put in a situation where we have to answer to endless questions by customers, clients and tourist regarding Huneeus Jr. Quintessa Winery is the only winery in the Napa Valley that demands a customer to be on time or they will not be allowed inside for the wine tasting! Auberge du soleil has a long time referral relationship with Quintessa winery and I suggest we boycott both the winery and resort in Rutherford, Napa Valley!
    I am very sorry for what all the employees had to go through at Quintessa I know you were treated very poorly!

  8. Agustin Huneeus Jr. arrest effects all of us in the Napa Valley and we all have to pay for it! As a tour guide and driver for nine years in the Napa Valley I and other drivers and concierges are put in a situation where we have to answer to endless questionsby customers, clients and tourist regarding Huneeus Jr. Quintessa Winery is the only winery in the Napa Valley that demands a customer to be on time or they will not be allowed inside for the wine tasting! Auberge du soleil has a long time referral relationshipwith Quintessa winery and I suggest we boycott both the winery and resort in Rutherford, Napa Valley!
    I am very sorry for what all the employees had to go through at Quintessa I know you were treated very poorly!

  9. what’s the daughter’s name? if you’ve read the indictment – she got a special dispensation to take college entrance exam tests longer AND she personally sent fake water polo pictures of herself in an email. she was part of the scam for sure. no need to protect this woman’s name.

  10. I have been trying for years to report “HUD ” fraud, to everybody in the county of sonoma, and was falsley arrested, i have also reported mental health mentalto congressman thompson, and chief deputy council Alegria de la cruz via e- mail 23 hours before the ” yountville shooting ” and was told, basically to mind my own business….SONOMA COUNTY IS CORRUPT, want an artical, please get in touch,

  11. May I suggest that we boycott all of this gentleman’s wineries (and wines). That would be the most fitting retribution for his crimes.

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