Former University of Texas coach pleads guilty in admissions scam
The former tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin who accepted $100,000 in bribes in the college admissions scam pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud on Wednesday, federal prosecutors said.
According to a criminal affidavit, Michael Center, 54, conspired with Martin Fox and scheme mastermind Rick Singer to designate a college applicant as a tennis player and facilitate his entrance to UT, even though the student did not play tennis competitively.
The student was admitted to the university in 2015 and was even granted a scholarship to pay for his books, the affidavit says. After he was admitted, the student withdrew from the tennis team and renounced his books scholarship.
The father of the student, who is not named, donated more than $600,000 in stock to Singer’s fake charity, Key Worldwide Foundation.
An employee of Singer, acting at his direction, purchased a cashier’s check for $25,000 payable to Texas Athletics using that money, the documents state. Singer also sent Center a $15,000 check payable to “Texas Athletics Attn: Michael Center,” and then flew to Austin, Texas, and gave Center $60,000 in cash, according to the affidavit.
“Michael Center is a very good man who made a very serious mistake,” his attorney, John Cunha, said. “He has provided help, assistance and mentored countless people over the course of his career. He’s a very good family man. He’s given a lot to his players, to the university, and to his community. At this point, he wants to express his sorrow and try to make things right.”
Singer has pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the US and obstruction of justice.
Fox, the president of a private tennis academy in Houston, is accused of introducing Singer to Center and accepting $100,000 for assisting with the bribe transaction. He has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Center is the fourth college coach to plead guilty in the sprawling federal criminal case. Yale women’s soccer coach Rudolph Meredith, Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer and University of Southern California assistant women’s soccer coach Laura Janke have also pleaded guilty.
Center was fired as UT’s men’s tennis coach after he was charged in the case last month.
“We take the criminal allegations against Michael Center very seriously and, as of today, he has been terminated as a UT employee,” the university’s president Gregory L. Fenves said in a statement.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison sentence at the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines, according to court documents.
CNN’s Erica Hill contributed to this report.