STANFORD (#1186) – Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer was fired Tuesday after he was charged with at least two counts of racketeering as part of the largest college admissions cheating scam ever prosecuted in the United States. The move by the university came hours after the Department of Justice announced that an operation dubbed Varsity Blues revealed that wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in Boston said the case against 50 people included parents who were a "catalog of wealth and privilege" who had collectively paid $25 million to a college admissions counselor, William Singer of Sacramento. Singer pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in an investigation into what Lelling called the "widening corruption of elite college admissions."
Stanford released a statement saying it has been cooperating with the DOJ and that Vandemoer “has been terminated.”
The statement continued: “The charges state that sailing head coach John Vandemoer accepted financial contributions to the sailing program from an intermediary in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission to Stanford. Neither student came to Stanford. However, the alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford’s values. Based on the Department of Justice investigation to date, we have no evidence that the alleged conduct involves anyone else at Stanford or is associated with any other team. However, we will be undertaking an internal review to confirm that."
Vandemoer, who was in his 11th season at Stanford, was one of several coaches at elite universities caught up in the scam. According to the federal complaint against Vandemoer, the scam worked by designating applicants as recruits for college athletic teams without regard for the applicants' athletic abilities, in exchange for bribes. According to the complaint, Singer sent two payments totaling $270,000 to Stanford’s sailing program after Vandemoer agreed to hold admission spots on his team for applicants with little or no experience.
The complaint alleges that in the summer of 2017, Vandemoer agreed to designate the child of one of Singer's clients as a recruit for the Stanford sailing team in exchange for a payment. In support of the student's application, Singer's associate created a student-athlete "profile" that was sent electronically to Stanford, which falsely suggested the applicant was a competitive sailor. The following May, after that applicant deferred his application to Stanford for one year, Singer mailed a payment of $110,000 from one of his charitable accounts to the Stanford sailing program in exchange for Vandemoer’s agreeing to designate the applicant as a sailing recruit in the following year's recruitment cycle.
In the summer of 2018, after that applicant decided to attend a different university, Vandemoer agreed with Singer to use that same recruiting spot for the child of another one of Singer's clients, in in exchange for a $500,000 payment to the Stanford sailing program. In support of the student's application, Singer, together with others, created documents falsely indicating that the applicant was a competitive sailor, although the student had minimal sailing experience. Although that applicant ultimately did not apply to Stanford, Singer mailed $160,000 to the Stanford sailing program. Vandemoer agreed with Singer that the payment would serve as a “deposit” for a future student’s purported recruitment.
According to Vandemoer’s profile on Stanford’s athletic web site, his teams have won 29 of 30 PCCSC spring conference championships and have qualified for at least the semifinals of all three spring ICSA national championships. He graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2000 with a degree in geochemistry. He was Navy’s head sailing coach for two seasons before taking the Stanford job.
Headline and photo of from a brief article this morning on the SF Chronicle website; 2010 photo courtesy of the Chron's Michael Macor taken from the upper deck of St Francis Yacht Club during the annual popular "Big Sail" regatta each November, raced between teams of sailors – current and alum – representing Cal Berkeley and Stanford, hosted by StFYC.