First parent agrees to plead guilty in college admissions scandal, others proclaim innocence

Image 1 of 2

A Bay Area-based packaged food entrepreneur became the first parent charged in the college admissions scandal to agree to plead guilty, according to a court filing Wednesday, while another couple declared their innocence, saying they had no idea their son's SAT test had been altered in any way.

Prosecutors allege that Peter Jan Sartorio, 53, of Menlo Park, Calif., paid $15,000 in cash to have his daughter's answers corrected on the college entrance exam. His daughter received a score of 27 out of a possible 36 on the ACT, which placed her in approximately the 86th percentile. However, she had previously earned scores of 900 and 960 out of a possible 1600 after she took two PSAT tests, which placed her between the 42nd and 51st percentile for her grade level, prosecutors allege.

The Sartorio home voicemail was full last month and KTVU has not heard back from Sartorio's lawyer, Peter Levitt. According to Sartorio's LinkedIn page, he is the founder of Elena's Foods in South San Francisco. 

14 Bay Area residents charged with college admissions scandal

In the court filing, Levitt said his client intended to plead guilty and asked US Magistrate M. Page Kelley if Sartorio continue his hearing until April 30.

In all so far, three people have pleaded guilty in the scheme, including the alleged mastermind Rick Singer, who began cooperating last year with investigators. The former head women's soccer coach at Yale, Rudy Meredith, has also pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

Three other Bay Area parent groups were also present in federal court in Boston  on Wednesday. 

* Amy Colburn, 59, and Dr. Gregory Colburn, 61, both of Palo Alto, Calif. are accused of paying $25,000 to have someone else take their son's SAT test. Both pleaded not guilty on Wednesday.

In a statement released to KTVU, the Colburn's lawyer, Patric Hooper and David S. Schumacher, said in part: "The Colburns are innocent of these charges, and they completely deny the allegations in the indictment. The Colburns’ son took his SAT test with no assistance, and the Colburns were unaware that his test was altered in any way. The Colburns’ lives have been turned upside down by these false accusations.

"The Colburns have done nothing wrong and are shocked by the indictment out of Boston, where they have no ties. They will seek a speedy trial to clear their names... Dr. Colburn, a highly-respected radiation oncologist, will be taking a leave of absence so he can devote his full attention to defending his wife and himself against the charges. The Colburns ask that the members of the public respect their privacy, and especially the privacy of their son."

The Colburns, through their attorney, wrote they were arrested at their home in front of their children.

* Elizabeth Henriquez, 56, and Manuel Henriquez, 55, both of Atherton, Calif., founder, participated in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on four separate occasions, for their two daughters, prosecutors allege.  In addition, they conspired to bribe the head tennis coach at Georgetown University, to designate their older daughter as a tennis recruit in order to facilitate her admission to the university, prosecutors allege.  The proctor then “‘gloated’ with Elizabeth Henriquez and her daughter about the fact that they had cheated and gotten away with it, the documents allege. KTVU sent an email seeking comment to Manuel Henriquez's company but did not get an immediate response. Both husband and wife self-surrendered last month and were released on $500,000 bond, court records show. On Wednesday, prosecutors said the couple was released per certain conditions. 

* Bruce Isackson, 61, president of a real estate development firm of Hillsborough, Calif. was also expected to appear on Wednesday. He and his wife are alleged to have exchanged more than $250,000 in Facebook stock to secure their daughter's admission to UCLA as a purported soccer recruit. They couldn't be reached for comment by phone or Facebook message. Prosecutors said Isackson was released on Wednesday pending certain conditions. 

The most high-profile parents to appear on court on Wednesday, however, were Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin  who said little during the brief hearing in a packed Boston courtroom and were not asked to enter a plea. They were set free on bail. 

Their appearance comes three weeks after they were among dozens of prominent parents and college sports coaches arrested in the sweeping admissions scandal that has sparked outrage and inflamed concerns that the admissions process favors the wealthy.

The scam involved bogus entrance exam scores and doctored photos to make applicants look like star athletes to get them into sought-after schools such as Yale, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.

Authorities stumbled upon the wide-ranging scam thanks to a tip from a Los Angeles executive who was ensnared in a stock manipulation probe. The investigation, which authorities are called Operation Varsity Blues, led to the biggest college admissions scheme ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.