Georgetown to expel 2 students tied to college admissions scandal
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Georgetown to expel 2 students tied to college admissions scandal

  • WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

    Two months after charges in the admissions scandal were first announced, some colleges have taken steps to remove students while others appear to be still sorting through what to do. Georgetown University said today that it planned to dismiss two students.

Georgetown University said today that it planned to dismiss two students connected to the college admissions scandal. Just hours earlier, one of those students, Adam Semprevivo, whose father has pleaded guilty in the case, sued Georgetown for threatening to expel him, saying that the university had denied him due process and that it should have been aware of misrepresentations on his application long before the Justice Department announced charges in the nation’s largest college admissions prosecution earlier this year.

Georgetown did not identify either student, but Semprevivo’s lawyer, David Kenner, said he had received an email from Georgetown informing him that his admission had been rescinded and that he would be dismissed.

Semprevivo, 21, who is from Los Angeles, just finished his junior year at the college in Washington, D.C. His father, Stephen Semprevivo, pleaded guilty last week to paying a college consultant $400,000 to secure his son’s admission to Georgetown as a recruit to the tennis team, even though the son did not play tennis competitively. According to the lawsuit, Adam has a 3.18 grade-point average in college so far. He has not been charged in the case, nor have any other students, though several have received target letters from prosecutors.

Kenner said that dismissal was too harsh a punishment.

“It’s a life sentence,” he said. “He’s lost three years of his life, studying, getting good grades, doing everything that was expected of him.” He added it could be difficult for Adam Semprevivo to gain admission to another college and that the dismissal could also affect his job prospects. “Potentially this will follow him for the rest of his life.”

The lawsuit — which appears to be the first case of a student suing over discipline imposed as a result of the scandal — underscores the complicated position that universities find themselves in as they try to figure out what action, if any, to take against students connected to the case. Some students appear to have been oblivious to their parents’ illicit efforts to get them into elite colleges, while others were aware, according to documents in the case.

Here are some answers to important questions about the case.

How is Georgetown involved?

Prosecutors say that Georgetown’s former tennis coach, Gordon Ernst, took $2.7 million in bribes from the college counselor at the center of the case, William Singer, between 2012 and 2018. In exchange for the bribes, according to prosecutors, Ernst designated at least 12 of the children of Singer’s clients as recruits to the tennis team, ensuring their admission to Georgetown, one of eight colleges — including Yale, Stanford, and the University of Southern California — where prosecutors say the scheme played out. Ernst has been charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering and has pleaded not guilty.

The charging documents specifically mention five parents or sets of parents whose children prosecutors say were designated by Ernst as recruits to the Georgetown tennis team. In four of those cases, prosecutors say the students’ applications included fabrications about their supposed tennis accomplishments. One student appears to have actually played tennis in high school, but not at Georgetown. Two of the students have already graduated.

What did Georgetown know?

More than a year before federal authorities announced charges in the scandal, Georgetown knew of problems with Ernst’s recruiting practices.

In 2017, the admissions office discovered what a spokeswoman called “irregularities in the athletic and other credentials” of two students being recruited by Ernst to play tennis. The university placed Ernst on leave and began an internal investigation, which found that he had violated university rules concerning admissions. The university asked him to resign in 2018.

Ernst went on to get a job as the head coach of women’s tennis at the University of Rhode Island. Georgetown has said that it knew nothing about the bribes described by prosecutors and did not find any criminal activity.

How did Georgetown decide to dismiss these students?

Georgetown gave few details about its investigation of the students. In a statement, a spokeswoman said that, after the charges were brought in the case earlier this year, the university began a review focused on whether any students knowingly provided false information to the university when they applied for admission.

“Each student case was addressed individually and each student was given multiple opportunities to respond and provide information to the University,” the spokeswoman, Meghan Dubyak, said in an email.

Semprevivo’s lawsuit sheds a little more light. It says that Semprevivo first learned he was being investigated in April, through an email from a university official. It says that he was later sent a letter with a list of 29 questions.

What have other colleges done?

Two months after charges in the admissions scandal were first announced, some colleges have taken steps to remove students while others appear to be still sorting through what to do. Yale and Stanford have each rescinded the admission of one student.

At the University of Southern California, roughly two dozen students were being investigated through the student judicial affairs committee. The total number of current students being investigated or who have been investigated at schools around the country is most likely 30 or higher.

It was not immediately clear why some schools have moved quickly while others have taken more time.

What did the Georgetown students know?

It is not clear what Adam Semprevivo knew about the admissions scheme, though he did send an email to Ernst — drafted by Singer — with false statements about his tennis experience, and he received an email from Singer with an essay intended for his Georgetown application that also contained false statements, according to both the charging documents and the lawsuit. His application to Georgetown also listed other fabricated tennis credentials.

The lawsuit says that Singer told Semprevivo that Ernst was a friend and would provide a recommendation for him during the admissions process. It also says that Singer submitted Semprevivo’s application and typed his name in the signature block. Students are required to sign their applications to affirm that the information in their application is accurate.

Kenner, the lawyer, said that Singer had worked with Semprevivo for over a year — coming to his house every two or three weeks to tutor and advise him — and gained his trust.

Another current student whose parents have been charged in the case also seems to have been at least somewhat aware, according to the charging documents. Prosecutors have said that Elizabeth and Manuel Henriquez, a couple from Atherton, California, paid Singer $400,000 to bribe Ernst to designate their elder daughter, Isabelle, as a recruit to the tennis team.

Additionally, according to prosecutors, the Henriquezes paid Singer at least $50,000 to arrange for cheating on the SAT, ACT and SAT subject tests for Isabelle and her younger sister. The Henriquezes have pleaded not guilty.

Like Adam Semprevivo, Isabelle Henriquez also sent an email to Ernst that was drafted by Singer, with fabrications about her tennis experience, according to documents.

Prosecutors have said that Henriquez actively participated in the test cheating scheme. According to the charging documents, Singer arranged for an SAT expert to proctor her SAT in exchange for a bribe.

The proctor, Mark Riddell, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering and is cooperating with the investigation, told investigators that he had sat next to Henriquez during the exam and provided her answers, according to the criminal complaint.

Henriquez and representatives for her parents did not respond to messages asking if her admission had been rescinded.

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