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By David K. Li
The 36-year-old Harvard alum, paid to secretly take college board tests for children of hard-driving parents, apologized Wednesday for his role in the burgeoning scandal.
“I want to communicate to everyone that I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions,” Mark Riddell, a resident of Palmetto, Florida, said in a statement released by his attorney.
He is facing two criminal counts for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering, federal prosecutors in Boston said.
Riddell, a 2004 Harvard graduate and a four-year tennis letter winner, is a key figure in the massive college-admissions probe dubbed Operation Varsity Blues. The federal probe announced Tuesday ensnared dozens of parents who allegedly paid millions of dollars to falsify college applications and get their children into elite universities.
“I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process,” he said. “I assume full responsibility for what I have done.”
Riddell took SAT and ACT exams for students between 2012 and this past February, according to a criminal complaint.
He was paid $10,000 per test, prosecutors said.
It wasn’t immediately clear, in charging documents, exactly how many tests Riddell took, but prosecutors are seeking to recover almost $450,000 forfeiture from the former college tennis player.
It didn’t appear that Riddell actually sat among high school students on Saturday mornings when he allegedly took the tests.
Ringleader William Rick Singer bribed test administrators in Houston and Los Angeles and “allowed Riddell to secretly take the ACT and SAT tests in place of the children of Singer’s clients,” according to charging documents.
Federal prosecutors have so far detailed just one example of Riddell’s paid test taking, when he allegedly flew to Houston and took a teenager’s ACT in his hotel room July 14, 2018.
Riddell boasted to Singer that he probably got a 35 for their client — and that’s exactly what he scored, prosecutors said. The maximum score is 36 and a 35 would be in about the 99th percentile of ACT takers.
Since 2006, Riddell had been director of college exam preparation at IMG Academy, a prep school in Bradenton, Florida, known for producing elite athletes. Riddell said he legitimately helped many students through his job at IMG Academy.
“I will always regret the choices I made, but I also believe that the more than 1,000 students I legitimately counseled, inspired, and helped reach their goals in my career will paint a more complete picture of the person I truly am,” according to the defendant’s statement.
Riddell’s profile was immediately scrubbed from the school website after his indictment was announced, WFLA-TV reported.
“Today, we were made aware of the charges against Mark Riddell,” the school said in a statement. “Riddell has been suspended indefinitely as we investigate this matter.”