Another person ensnared in the Varsity Blues college bribery scandal has a connection to California politics.
California Globe reported this morning that key figure William McGlashan, who lives in Marin County has been a prolific donor to local and national Democratic candidates.
It has emerged that some local Democrats have received money from Varsity Blues figures much further from home.
Gordon Caplan was until this morning the co-chairman of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, a venerable powerhouse of 650 lawyers. The firm scrubbed their beloved partner’s name and photo from its website with Stalinesque speed — before a trial, let alone a conviction. That’s because Caplan, named “Dealmaker of the Year” by American Lawyer just last year, is among the 32 parents charged Tuesday in a stomach-turning scheme to buy spots for their children at elite universities via bribery and cheating.
Caplan has been a generous and frequent donor to political candidates over the years. In years past, his considerable wealth has been directed toward candidates of both parties, sometimes including those running against each other. In 2012, he gave two max-out $2500 donations to Mitt Romney while also maxing out to Barack Obama. That’s not all that rare among wealthy donors. If the head of law firm has principals more in line with keeping good favor with important clients than, say, tax policy and world affairs, expected to see cancel-out donations to both sides of the aisle.
By the most recent elections, however, Caplan’s ideology seems to have solidified around the Democratic Party. After a double max to Hillary Clinton for her primary and general, his giving increased. In the midterms, Caplan made max or near-max donations to at least five candidates, all Democrats: Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), Bill Nelson (Florida), Jacky Rosen (Nevada) and Chris Murphy from his home state of Connecticut.
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The California angle comes in via Mrs. Caplan. Amy Elizabeth Caplan is herself a product of an elite education and privileged upbringing. According to reporting by Teri Buhl, she attended the posh Greenwich Academy private school, and her father was the late cable and telecom entrepreneur Richard Treibick, who endowed a chair at UConn and whose Hamptons home sold for $35 million.
Mrs. Caplan’s life of wealth and privilege didn’t seem to dampen her enthusiasm for Democratic candidates. She gave $5000 in 2006 to the Committee for a Democratic Future and donated generously to Hillary Clinton and others. She, too, seems to have been swept up by an energized left during this past November’s midterms. In addition to a $2000 donation to Rosen and to Richard Ojeda’s quixotic quest in West Virginia, Mrs. Caplan maxed out to Claire McCaskill. When it comes to California, it was Andrew Janz who benefitted. Mrs. Caplan sent $2700 across the country to support Janz in the 22nd CD. Janz battled Devin Nunes hard before falling 53-47 in one of the state’s nastier and more expensive showdowns.
Rigging the game for extra time and a guaranteed ACT result
The Caplans’ daughter, a talented tennis player, was enrolled in an online high school. The indictment quotes the Caplans at length speaking with the mastermind of the scheme, William “Rick” Singer, about how their money would be spent. If true as described, it’s nauseating.
The first known phone call between the Singer and Mr. Caplan, took place on June 15, 2018, and Singer outlined the scheme.
The Caplans were to take their daughter to a psychologist in order to be tested for a learning disability, which would entitle her to extra time on the SAT test, plus a separate testing room away from test-takers. To explain why a Connecticut teen was taking the test in Los Angeles – where Singer’s bribed proctor operated, the family would use the pretense of a USC recruiting visit. After the daughter finished the exam, a corrupt proctor would correct a certain number of her mistaken answers to ensure she scored in the range Caplan had paid for, according to the complaint.
In a subsequent call, Singer explained that the Caplan girl had “to be stupid” when she was getting tested for her learning disability.
“It works every time?” Caplan asked.
“Every time,” Singer responded.
The attorney expressed doubt. “To be honest, this feels a little weird,” he told Singer. “When she gets the score and we have choices, you’re gonna be saying ‘Okay, I’ll take all my kids, we’re gonna do the same thing.’”
“Yeah, I am,” Caplan agreed.
Amy wasn’t as sure. Singer suggested hiring a ringer to take some of her daughter’s online classes, too, but Mrs. Caplan expressed reservations. If the test answers were quietly corrected, the girl would never know, but she would obviously become aware that her parents thought she was “stupid” if she suddenly received better grades in class than she knew she’d earned.
Caplan rushed his wife off the telephone call.
Referring to the class-taking scheme, he asked the fixer, “Is that kosher? Can we do that?”
“Absolutely, I do it all the time man,” said Singer. “I do it all the time for families and then we take college classes for kids, you know, online to raise their GPA.”
Caplan: “Let me put it differently, if somebody catches this, what happens?
Singer: “The only one who can catch it is if you guys tell somebody.”
“To be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here,” Caplan said. “I’m worried about … if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”
“It’s never happened before,” Singer replied. Singer is now the government’s chief witness.
According to the complaint, Gordon Caplan and his daughter flew to L.A. on or about July 21, 2018, to meet with the psychologist to seek the learning disability diagnosis.
That diagnosis was so dubious that it was twice rejected twice by the standardized test administrators. Prosecutors intervened and asked the ACT administrators to approve the daughter for extra time in early November.
Again, Caplan expressed fear about the consequences of being caught. “I am a lawyer. So I’m sort of rules oriented,” he told Singer. Singer reassured Caplan that he’d done the same process with about 20 other people, and it had “never been an issue.”
On Nov. 13, Caplan wired $25,000 to a bank account in Boston that the feds had instructed Singer to open. Singer asked Caplan what score the parents wanted for their daughter, suggesting a 33. Caplan thought that was not credible – her previous high had been a 22. They agreed on 32.
Singer says, “The school that she would be taking the test at, with the proctor, is $75,000 and we get the score we need to get. It’s one time, it’s done, she can’t, but she has to show up and be there. She’ll ask- … She’ll, she’ll think, right, she’ll think she took it. She’ll feel good about herself. She’ll get a great score and she’ll be like, “Mom and Dad, can I…” You know what’s going to happen? She’s going to say, “Dad, can I re-take the test again? ’Cause I think I can do better.” And that happens all the time, right? She’ll get whatever, and we will say no, just so you know that.”
She took the exam in West Hollywood, showing up with her father by her side. The feds were watching the whole time. Two weeks later, Caplan sent Singer another $50,000. And now, Willkie Farr put out a statement saying, “Mr. Caplan has been placed on a leave of absence from the Firm and will have no further Firm management responsibilities.”
The results: Spots that might have gone to more worthy students were sold to higher bidders. The nation’s faith in the fairness of its institutions is shaken. A sterling legal career lies in tatters. And a young lady knows exactly what her parents think of her abilities.
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