Ex-UT at Austin coach admits to taking bribe in college scam

Michael Center, right, former men's tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin, departs federal court with an unidentified woman, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Boston, after he pled guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON — The former men's tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin admitted Wednesday to accepting a $100,000 bribe in a wide-ranging college admissions bribery scheme and has agreed to cooperate with authorities investigating the high-profile case.

Michael Center, 55, is the third coach to plead guilty in the nationwide scandal that has also ensnared wealthy parents, including executives and Hollywood actresses.

The case has put a spotlight on the cutthroat college admissions process and amplified complaints that the system is rigged in favor of the rich. The parents are charged with paying big money to doctor entrance exam scores or get their children admitted to highly selective schools as athletic recruits for sports they didn't play.

Authorities say the admissions consultant at the center of the scam, Rick Singer, paid Center to help an applicant get admitted as a tennis recruit, even though the student didn't play the sport competitively.

In 2015, Singer gave Center $40,000 in donations for the school's tennis program and later flew to Austin, where he gave the coach about $60,000 in cash for himself, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen said.

Center looked down at his hands on the table in front of him as the prosecutor read the allegations. Rosen revealed that Center has also entered into a cooperation agreement with the government in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

Prosecutors have said they will seek between 15 and 21 months in prison, although they've agreed to ask the judge for less than that if Center provides substantial assistance in their investigation.

Center's lawyer called him a "very good man who made a bad mistake."

"He is very sorry for what he did and at this point he wants to make amends," attorney John Cunha Jr. said.

Thirteen of the 33 parents charged in the case agreed earlier this month to plead guilty, including "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman . Huffman, who was charged with paying $15,000 to have someone boost her daughter's SAT score, will plead guilty May 21.

Prosecutors have said they will seek between four and 10 months in prison for Huffman.

On Tuesday, another parent and a former University of Southern California coach said they will also plead guilty .

Laura Janke, who was an assistant women's soccer coach at USC, created bogus athletic profiles that portrayed the applicants as star athletes for sports they didn't play, prosecutors said. She is also cooperating with prosecutors and could testify against defendants at trials, if asked.

Parents continuing to fight the charges include Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the sitcom "Full House," and Loughlin's fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli. They are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into the University of Southern California.

Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded not guilty to money laundering and mail fraud conspiracy charges and haven't publicly commented on the allegations.

Former coaches at Yale and Stanford have already pleaded guilty.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkinricher

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