Law360, Boston (October 30, 2019, 7:01 PM EDT) -- A federal judge rejected the government's theory of how sentencing guidelines should be calculated for parents charged in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions case and questioned prosecutors' "evolving" theories in the case as he sentenced a parent to two months in prison Wednesday.
Jeffrey Bizzack leaves federal court Wednesday after being sentenced to two months in prison for a $250,000 “Varsity Blues” bribe. (Chris Villani | Law360) After citing everything from the facts of the case to Greek mythology over a three-plus-hour hearing, Senior U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock said California entrepreneur Jeffrey Bizzack should spend the time in prison, pay a $250,000 fine and face three years of supervised release with 300 hours of community service per year for paying $250,000 to have his son admitted to the University of Southern California as a fake volleyball recruit.
The fine amount, supervised release period and volume of community service all exceeded the amounts imposed in previous "Varsity Blues" sentences.
"Do I think this is a serious crime? You bet I think this is a serious crime," the judge said, adding that although some have advantages in life, "what shouldn't exist is the idea that you can pay somebody off. And that's what the defendant did here."
But before drilling down on the allegations against Bizzack and how much time he should spend in jail, Judge Woodlock grilled a federal prosecutor for 90 minutes on how to calculate the "gain" or "loss" in the fraud case before settling on the conclusion that it's not calculable.
"I don't see this as a case that lends itself to any meaningful analysis of gain or loss, of a bribery amount," the judge said. "This is a crime of sneaky conspicuous consumption, the kind of thing rich people can do that poor people can't because they have the money to do it to obtain a good that impresses their friends and satisfies a sense of personal self worth, but it doesn't monetize."
"I just don't think the guidelines capture this at all," he added. "Not a bit."
During an extended back-and-forth with Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney, Judge Woodlock said he was having a hard time figuring out much of the $250,000 Bizzack spent — $200,000 to the charity controlled by "Varsity Blues" mastermind William "Rick" Singer and $50,000 to the Galen Center, the school's basketball arena — was money he knew was going to be earmarked as a bribe and whose hands the bribe money ended up in.
"Even if we could calculate it in some fashion, it's useless because of all the various unknowns and estimates and speculations that are involved," Judge Woodlock said.
Before sentencing actress Felicity Huffman, Judge Indira Talwani issued a written order saying the bribe amounts should not factor into sentences, denying prosecutors' efforts to pad prison time asks. Judge Woodlock praised his colleague's analysis of the prosecution, saying she has done well to tackle a case that is without precedent.
Analysts have suggested frustration with low sentences led the government to tack on federal programs bribery charges for some defendants in the case, in addition to the fraud conspiracy charges initially levied.
With U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling looking on from the front row, Kearney demurred when asked by Judge Woodlock what led to the second superseding indictment against Lori Loughlin and numerous other defendants who are still fighting the case.
Judge Woodlock, with a smile, said it's "none of his business," but likened the "evolving" government charges and trying to apply the sentencing guidelines to the story of Procrustes, a son of Poseidon in Greek mythology who cut people's limbs off in order to make them fit into an iron bed.
Bizzack was the 51st person charged in the "Varsity Blues" case and one of only two charged since the case was first unveiled back in March. He pled guilty quickly, and first appeared in court to enter that guilty plea in July, admitting to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
He apologized to USC and its students as well as his family, choking up as he mentioned his son.
"I know my actions impacted all of them and it wasn't fair," he said. "What I did was wrong, this is the worst set of decisions I have made in my entire life. This has been a huge wake-up call for me."
His attorney Kate Corrigan of Corrigan Welbourn & Stokke APLC asked for probation in presentence filings but switched gears when Judge Woodlock remarked mid-hearing, "this is a crime where someone goes to jail, the question is how long." Corrigan said Bizzack should spend less time in prison than three other parents sentenced before Judge Talwani, whom Kearney said are the most comparable to Bizzack.
"He knew what he did was wrong, he's owned it, he did not hesitate, he did not hedge, he was completely transparent," Corrigan said. "He didn't wait for the government to knock on his door."
Judge Woodlock is the third jurist in the Boston federal courthouse to sentence someone charged in the high-profile case. Judge Talwani handed out sentences ranging from probation to five months in prison for 11 parents who pled guilty to either fraudulently inflating their children's test scores or bribing the teenagers' ways into college as fake athletic recruits.
Senior U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel sentenced the former coach of the Stanford sailing program, who also pled guilty to taking bribes but never personally pocketed any money, to a day in prison, deemed served.
Like Judge Talwani before him, Judge Woodlock suggested the prison term was necessary to serve the purpose of general deterrence and send a message to "the other people who think life is a series of encounters with maitre d's, you give them a little money and you can get in the side door."
The government is represented by Eric S. Rosen, Justin D. O'Connell, Kristen A. Kearney and Leslie Wright of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.
Bizzack is represented by Seth Berman of Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, Kate Corrigan of Corrigan Welbourn & Stokke APLC, and Jeremy N. Goldman of the Law Offices of Jeremy N. Goldman.
The case is U.S. v. Bizzack, case number 1:19-cr-10222, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
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