Parents sent to prison for paying to raise daughter’s scores so she could get into Duke

A Duke University alumna and her husband must each spend a month in federal prison after they paid $125,000 to alter their daughter’s SAT and ACT scores so that she could get into Duke, AP reported.

Marcia Abbott, 59 of Colorado, and Greg Abbott, 68 of New York, were sentenced in Boston’s federal court Tuesday after pleading guilty to fraud and conspiracy as part of the national college admissions scandal. They will also each have to complete a year of supervised release, perform 250 hours of community service and pay $45,000.

The couple was the sixth set of parents sentenced so far in the bribery scandal that has exposed dozens of wealthy families and celebrities — including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — who were allegedly paying to get their kids into elite universities with fake test scores and athletic resumes, AP reported.

The Abbotts never told their daughter that they paid $50,000 for a test proctor to correct their daughter’s ACT exam answers, plus $75,000 to rig her math and literature SAT subject tests, authorities said. The amount they paid ring leader Rick Singer to boost the college entrance exam scores is nearly two years of tuition at Duke, which has a 7% acceptance rate.

“My husband and I were both motivated by good intentions ... but this does not excuse our actions,” Marcia Abbott told the judge before she was sentenced, NBC Boston reported.

Gregory Abbott called his actions “wrong and stupid” in a Sept. 27 letter to the court and said he feels “genuine remorse.”

“I share the same sensibilities as most people and, strange as it may sound, identify with the public outrage over my own actions,” he wrote. “I accept full shame and responsibility.”

Gregory Abbott was chairman and CEO of International Dispensing Corp. in New York until he took a leave of absence in March, around the time when the scandal erupted in the media. Marcia Abbott, who earned an English degree from Duke in 1981, is a former magazine editor and writer.

Officials at Duke have said that the university does not have specific ACT or SAT scores that applicants must achieve for admission, and that test scores are only part of the equation.

Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions, Christoph Guttentag, previously told the News & Observer that details of the FBI’s investigation show the corruption was not systemic, but involved individual co-conspirators.

All Duke applicants go through the same admissions process and must meet the same standard, Guttentag said, regardless of their major or athletic standing.

“If someone has an exceptional talent or accomplishment in any number of areas, that’s something we take into account,” he said. “But they still have to go through the same process.”

Duke wasn’t the only North Carolina university wrapped up in Operation Varsity Blues.

Wake Forest University volleyball head coach William “Bill” Ferguson resigned in August, months after being charged in the national college admissions scandal. Federal investigators say Ferguson accepted $100,000 to say a student was a recruit for his team in 2017, the News & Observer previously reported. He has pleaded not guilty.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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