LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A former high-ranking athletic official at USC pleaded guilty Friday for her role in the massive college admissions scandal which has plagued numerous elite universities across the nation.
Donna Heinel, the former senior associate athletic director at USC, pleaded guilty in Boston federal court for helping more than two dozen students get admitted to the college as fake athletic recruits. Heinel will plead guilty to “honest services” wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.
Her plea deal with federal prosecutors will see her serve a prison sentence of up to 46 months. Sentencing was scheduled for March 11.
Beginning in March of 2019, the FBI charged nearly 60 people — including several dozen parents and nine coaches — in a massive bribery scheme dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” in which wealthy families paid millions to Newport Beach businessman Rick Singer to help their children cheat on standardized tests and bribe test administrators and college coaches to get their kids into top universities like UCLA, USC, Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.
Heinel is accused of working Singer to coordinate students’ admissions to USC as fake athletic recruits over a four-year period beginning in 2014. Heinel presented applicants to admissions committees in exchange for payments from Singer totaling more than $1.3 million, prosecutors said.
Before entering the plea deal, she faced a slew of charges, including conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and honest services mail and wire fraud, which could have landed her up to 60 years in prison.
Almost three dozen parents have pleaded guilty in the case so far, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli. Parents have so far received punishments ranging from probation to nine months in prison.
Loughlin served 2 ½ months in a Northern California federal prison for paying half-a-million dollars in bribes to get her two daughters into USC as fake athletic recruits. She was released in December 2020 and has since returned to acting.
Huffman served 14 days for paying a $15,000 bribe to have a proctor correct her daughter’s SAT answers..
Singer pleaded guilty in March 2019 to charges of racketeering, money laundering, fraud and obstruction and is awaiting sentencing.
Heinel admitted to helping funnel cash to Singer and making $20,000 a month in a phony consulting deal with him, according to federal prosecutors.
In 2008, while working at the university, Heinel established a side business, Clear the Clearinghouse, wherein she advised high school administrators on NCAA guidelines for athletes, a service that is usually available for free. Her annual fee for the service was reportedly up to $700.
Heinel, who was let go by USC on the day she was indicted, listed her Long Beach home for just under $2 million in the wake of the scandal. About a month after the scandal broke, CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein discovered that Heinel was working as a Lyft driver to make ends meet.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)