Menlo Park father intends to plead guilty to an unspecified charge in college admissions scam

Palo Alto parents deny charges of fraud, money laundering in scandal involving top-notch universities

A Menlo Park man intends to plead guilty to an as-yet unspecified charge in the $25 million college admissions scam which has had ripple effects on elite universities across the nation, while a Palo Alto couple entered not-guilty pleas, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal court documents filed Wednesday.

Peter Jan "P.J." Sartorio, 53, of Menlo Park and Palo Alto residents Dr. Gregory Colburn, 61, and Amy Colburn, 59, are among the 33 parents, 10 of whom have Midpeninsula connections, indicted in the scandal that involved falsifying scores on standardized tests required for college applications.

Sartorio plans to plead guilty to an as-yet unspecified charge U.S. prosecutors plan to file prior to his federal court hearing in Boston, Massachusetts on April 30, according to a document filed by his attorneys, Peter Levitt and Nicholas Ramacher of Boston law firm Donnelly, Conroy and Gelhaar. Sartorio was charged last month with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Sartorio is accused of paying $15,000 to have a test proctor correct his daughter's answers on an ACT test in June 2017 at the West Hollywood Test Center. The girl received a score of 27 out of a possible 36, placing her in the 86th percentile. The ACT result was an improvement from the scores of 900 and 960 out of 1600 that she received in a PSAT, which placed her in the 42nd and 51 percentile, respectively, for her grade level.

The Colburns appeared in federal court in Boston on Wednesday and entered not-guilty pleas, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. They face charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.

The couple allegedly participated in the scam by arranging to have their son take the SAT test with extended time at the West Hollywood Test Center in southern California in March 2018 with a proctor who helped them cheat on the test in exchange for a $25,000 payment.

In early March, a total of 50 people were charged in the wide-ranging case spearheaded by William "Rick" Singer, 58, who has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and several conspiracy charges that collectively carry a sentence of up to 65 years in prison, according to federal prosecutors. The scam also involved the creation of fake athlete profiles involving university athletic staff that were submitted to admissions officers in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars, according to prosecutors.

Sartorio, a packaged food entrepreneur, was initially scheduled to appear in the federal court on March 29, but was traveling out of state at the time, leading his attorneys to request his hearing be pushed back to today, April 3.

The mail and wire fraud charge and money laundering charge each carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of either $250,000 or double the gain or loss, which is the greater amount, according to the Department of Justice. In addition, they will be ordered to pay restitution in an amount to be determined at their respective sentencing hearings.

Sartorio previously owned Elena's Food Specialties. He is president and co-founder of Nate's and P.J.'s Organics, which manufactures frozen, packaged burritos, sold through ADF Foods in South San Francisco.

According to media reports, Sartorio is the first Bay Area parent to agree to plead guilty in the scandal, which the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts has described as the "largest college-admissions scam prosecuted by the Department of Justice."

Other local parents charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud also appeared in federal court in Boston on Wednesday for their initial appearances. Atherton residents Elizabeth Henriquez, 56, and Manuel Henriquez, 55, who was CEO of venture capital and private equity firm Hercules Capital in Palo Alto; and Bruce Isackson 61, president of commercial real estate firm WP Investments in Woodside, did not enter pleas.

On March 29, Menlo Park resident Marjorie Klapper, 50, co-owner of M&M Bling in Palo Alto; William McGlashan Jr., 55, a former Palo Alto resident and founder and CEO of private equity firm TPG Growth and The Rise Fund; and Marci Palatella, 63, of Healdsburg, a longtime donor to Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton and CEO of liquor distribution company Preservation Distillery, made initial appearances in the Boston federal court but also did not enter pleas. They are also each charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.

Related content:

• Listen to the March 15 episode of "Behind the Headlines," where Palo Alto college adviser John Raftrey discusses the implications of the nationwide admissions bribery scandal, now available on our YouTube channel and podcast.

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$75K for a fake ACT score? Students say cheating happens without the big bucks

Following college-admissions indictments, feds investigate whether Stanford was lax in complying with financial-aid laws

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1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 4, 2019 at 8:16 pm

Is he negotiating a slap-on-the-wrist penalty or will he accept any reasonable judgement from the court?

Like this comment
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2019 at 10:02 am

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

In the Mountain View Los Altos high school district, there is immense social pressure from some parents to "AP to the MAX" to boost good students into "elite 4 year collages." This comes at a cost. 4 AP classes per year is 5 + hours of homework at least 5 days per week.

And now, Harvard for instance is giving 0 advanced credit hours for each AP course passed, even with a 5 of 5 test score!

If boards of education allow this type of insane academic pressure, on minors, I think it is irresponsible and JUST ADDS to the pressure for collage admission cheating. Too many wealthy, graduate school educated parents disbelieve the "return to the mean" lesson of biology, and instead want to .... (I do not know what they are willing to do, some obviously are willing to commit federal crimes it seems)

the math 4 x 1 hr AP plus all other classes/rehearsals/practice etc.

2 people like this
Posted by Berkeley parent
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 8, 2019 at 8:52 pm

@Steven Nelson
UC (Berkeley, for example) does give credit for AP. AP classes will actually make possible for my daughter to get a double major in 3 years (after 2 years she already got enough credits for graduating with one major). We were very lucky that MVHS allowed to take AP classes starting freshmen year, not all schools have this. The regular classes are boring and not that challenging.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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