Former Pimco CEO charged in college admissions bribery scheme

Douglas Hodge allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get two of his children admitted to the University of Southern California

Mar 12, 2019 @ 3:11 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

Former chief executive of Pacific Investment Management Co. Douglas Hodge was one of dozens charged Tuesday in criminal conspiracy to help win admission to elite universities.

According to an indictment filed by federal prosecutors, Mr. Hodge paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to get two of his children admitted to the University of Southern California as athletic recruits. The indictment alleges Mr. Hodge also sought to enlist a cooperating witness to help a third child gain admission to Georgetown.

Mr. Hodge retired from Pimco in November 2017 after 28 years with the firm. He served as CEO from 2014 to 2016, following the departures of Mohamed El-Erian and Bill Gross.

Mr. Hodge declined to comment when reached on his mobile phone. Pimco did not respond to a request for comment.

As reported by Bloomberg, investigators detailed a scandal that perverted much of the admissions process for America's elite colleges. Unlike most other SAT cheating cases, the scheme reached deep into the academy, implicating college officials who allegedly subverted the missions of the universities themselves.

(More: Click here to see the list of defendants and links to documents)

In all, the government said clients paid $25 million in bribes to coaches and college administrators from 2011 to 2018. In some cases, the bribes would be disguised as charitable contributions. An informant involved in the alleged crime said clients could also pay $15,000 to $75,000 to cheat on each standardized test — in some cases, getting a proctor to change wrong answers in the test center.

"And it works?" one client asked an informant, according to court papers.

"Every time," the informant replied, with a laugh.

An FBI informant said he told parents the alleged cheating and bribery amounted to a "side door" for wealthy parents at the most selective schools. The "front door" involved children getting in on their own merits, and the "back door" entailed making multimillion dollar donations, which was legal though far more expensive.

"Who we are — what we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school," the informant told parents. "They want guarantees; they want to get this thing done."

The scandal, perhaps the largest ever in admissions, is certain to call into question the process by which top colleges fill highly competitive freshmen classes, while highlighting the extremes to which some wealthy parents will go to win entrance.

The charges were unsealed by prosecutors in California, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Texas. Prosecutors said 38 people were in custody, including celebrities Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, who allegedly paid bribes to win admission for their children. Also accused is lawyer Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of the Willkie Farr & Gallagher law firm in New York.

Prosecutors accused the former women's soccer coach at Yale, the senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California, the women's volleyball coach at Wake Forest University and the sailing coach at Stanford. A college prep school director is charged, as is the director of an exam-preparation company.

Two defendants are scheduled to plead guilty in Boston on Tuesday, including Stanford's sailing coach, John Vandemoer, and William Rick Singer, who ran a college admissions counseling company.

Representatives from Yale, Stanford, USC, Georgetown and UCLA didn't immediately return calls or emails seeking comment. Wake Forest and the University of Texas announced Tuesday it had suspended coaches.

"Integrity in admissions is vital to the academic and ethical standards of our university," the University of Texas said in a statement.

Additional reporting provided by Bloomberg News.

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