This post has been updated.
An elite education is said to be priceless — at least, that could be the motivation behind the actions of Gordon Caplan ’88, who allegedly wired $75,000 to procure a fabricated, inflated ACT score for his daughter. A family trust in Caplan’s name donated considerably to Cornell University in recent years.
The alumnus was named a defendant in an FBI investigation that has also accused famous actresses, exam administrators and athletic directors of giving and accepting bribes to admit students to elite colleges, including Yale University and Stanford University.
“To be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here,” Caplan told William Singer in a phone call, according to excerpts from the wiretapped phone call in the FBI’s criminal complaint. Singer is the founder of The Edge College & Career Network, the college counseling service that investigators say facilitated the fraudulent transaction. The Network also had a nonprofit arm, the Key Worldwide Foundation.
Andrew E. Lelling, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, called the case “the largest college admissions scandal ever prosecuted.” So far, at least 10 athletic coaches from top schools including Georgetown, University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California have been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for positive recommendations for prospective players.
Willkie Farr & Gallagher placed Caplan — who previously served as co-partner — on a leave of absence Wednesday afternoon. The firm said in a statement that Caplan would have “no further Firm management responsibility,” according to Above the Law.
“As widely reported, one of our partners, Gordon Caplan, was among the persons charged in the college admissions matter,” the statement read. “This is a personal matter and does not involve Willkie or any of its clients.”
Caplan made his federal court appearance in New York City on Tuesday and was released on a $500,000 bond, according to the attorney office of the District of Massachusetts. He will appear in federal court in Boston on March 29.
High school students take standardized tests like the ACT in the time leading up to college application deadlines. According to the FBI’s documents, during this time, Caplan was preparing for the ACT in a different way.
FBI documents said that last June, Singer urged Caplan to petition for extended test-taking time for his daughter. In July, transcripts showed Caplan and his wife discussing having Singer’s employees take classes under Caplan’s daughter’s name. In November, Caplan forked out the first payment, wiring $25,000 to the KWF. At the time, Caplan told Singer his daughter’s highest practice score was a 22.
Caplan hails from Greenwich, Connecticut — one of the top 10 richest places in the country. On Dec. 8, 2018, he dropped off his daughter at the West Hollywood Test Center in California in the morning, and picked her up from the testing center later that Saturday afternoon. According to court documents, Singer recruited a colleague to purportedly proctor — and “decipher” — Caplan’s daughter’s ACT.
Twelve days later, Caplan shelled out another $50,000; in return, based on the agreement in the November phone call, Singer guaranteed an ACT score between 32 and 34. Court documents say Caplan asked Singer not to score his daughter higher than a 32.
The scheme — which was cleanly laid out to Caplan in phone calls throughout the transactions — first involved administering a “learning difference” test to Caplan’s daughter.
It was vital, Singer told Caplan, for his daughter “to be stupid” when the psychologist evaluated her. A poor evaluation report would allow for Caplan’s daughter to be granted extra time when she took her standardized tests, a practice that Singer said is widespread.
“What happened is, all the wealthy families that figured out that if I get my kid tested and they get extended time, they can do better on the test. So most of these kids don’t even have issues, but they’re getting time,” Singer said in a call, according to court documents. “The playing field is not fair.”
Singer, labeled “Cooperating Witness 1” in court documents, pleaded guilty to the charges of fraud, money laundering and more, and shared wiretapped phone calls that exposed Caplan’s transgressions.
Caplan, who graduated from Cornell with a B.A. in government, replied that it felt “a little weird,” and then proceeded: “So how do I get this done?”
Caplan has stacked many accolades in the legal sphere. He received a public service award from his alma mater Fordham Law School in 2016, was named a “Dealmaker of the Year” by American Lawyer and was named a top acquisitions lawyer by the Global M&A Network. Caplan is also the president of his family namesake trust, listed online with a total of $698,655 in assets.
The Caplan Family Foundation Trust — headed by Gordon and Amy Caplan — donated generously to his alma maters, according to tax documents. In 2017, the Trust gave $100,000 to Cornell University, preceded by $140,000 in 2016. The Trust donated $15,000, $40,000 and $15,000 in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively. The University received at least $7,500 from the Trust before then, reports show.
Caplan also made sizable donations to Fordham Law School starting in 2002, according to ProPublica reports.
In some phone conversations with Singer, Caplan expressed reticence about the possibility of getting caught.
“So, again, and — [sic] keep in mind I am a lawyer,” Caplan said in the transcript of the wiretapped phone call. “So I’m sort of rules oriented.” Singer reassured Caplan that no one had ever been caught — and that Caplan would be safe.
Now, along with other wealthy parents, famous actors and athletic coaches, Caplan faces charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
A statement released by Yale on Tuesday afternoon expressed the University’s “full cooperation” with the proceedings implicating their former women’s soccer coach. The statement concluded by saying that Yale only admits those students who “demonstrate their ability to succeed in the academic and residential components of the Yale experience.”
Others involved in this case echoed their cooperation and concern in similar statements. Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne called the allegations “nothing short of appalling.” USC stated Wednesday that it was “in the process of identifying any funds received by the university in connection with this alleged scheme,” and reviewing its admissions processes.
ACT, Incorporated representatives responded to the allegations, saying they were “fully cooperating” with law enforcement “to identify and expose the few bad actors who have attempted to undermine a fair testing environment,” according to the Iowa City Press Citizen. “No student should have an unfair advantage over any other,” the statement said.
This post has been updated with a statement from Willkie Farr & Gallagher and information about the Caplan Family Foundation Trust.