New York CEO, wife sentenced to prison in college admission scandal

John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, Sept. 18 2019, Boston, MA. Photo by Chris O'Brien/BU News Service

By Chris O’Brien
BU News Service

In the latest development in the “Varsity Blues” college admission scandal, the founder and CEO of a New York-based food and beverage packaging company and his wife were each sentenced Tuesday to one month of incarceration, 250 hours of community service and a $45,000 fine on mail fraud charges.

Gregory and Marcia Abbott pleaded guilty in April to contributing a total of $125,000 to Richard Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation to improve their daughter’s ACT and SAT scores, according to a federal affidavit.

“To every soul I’ve offended, I apologize,” Gregory Abbott said through tears Tuesday. “I betrayed the American Dream I idolized.”

The Abbotts described the sequence of events which led them to work with Singer as a “perfect storm.” According to their testimony, the couple had undergone marital struggles and separated, with Marcia heading to Colorado with their daughter and Gregory staying in New York with their son. At the same time, the Abbotts’ daughter was suffering from the effects of Lyme’s disease, barring her from attending her high school and resulting in her homeschooling, where Singer’s services were sought out to prepare their daughter for college admissions. 

According to Judge Indira Talwani, the Abbotts’ daughter was unaware of her parents’ actions to augment her test results. 

“I can say without reservation I was not narcissistically propping up my child. I was trying to help my ailing, very capable and talented daughter,” Gregory Abbott said.

Prosecutors said Singer used a proctor in his scheme to modify the Abbotts’ daughter’s test results after she took the test. According to court documents, Singer’s proctor changed the result of her ACT to a 35 out of 36 for $50,000 and for $75,000, changed her SAT results to an 800 on the math and 710 on the literature tests, placing her in the 99th percentile for both ACT and SAT tests. 

Government prosecutors deemed the Abbotts “among the more culpable” involved in the scandal, due to their repeated use of Singer’s services. The government had advocated for both defendants to each serve an 8-month sentence, along with a “substantial fine” and community service obligation.

“They bought their daughter a 35 on the ACT,” said federal prosecutor Eric Rosen. “They weren’t trying to get her into the ballpark, they were trying to win the game.”

Talwani specified the 250 hours of community service the Abbotts must each respectively provide must go towards an agency or organization that provides direct service to students and families.

Talwani also granted the Abbotts’ request to serve their sentences successively so that one of them may be able to care for their daughter while the other is incarcerated. Marcia Abbott will self-report on November 20, and Gregory Abbott will follow her on January 3. 

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