Former CEO sentenced to 12 months in ‘Varsity Blues’ scandal

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

By John Terhune
BU News Service

A former California CEO was sentenced to 12 months of home confinement and issued a fine of $95,000 Monday after he admitted to paying $300,000 to secure his son’s admission to Georgetown in 2016.

Peter Dameris of Pacific Palisades, California, pled guilty in May to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, becoming the 25th parent to plead guilty in cases related to the “Varsity Blues” admission scandal.

“I am enormously remorseful for the actions that have brought me before you today,” Dameris told U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns during a virtual sentencing hearing. “I have saddled my family with so much shame, pain, and uncertainty.”

Like other parents involved in the scandal, Dameris conspired with William “Rick” Singer, the owner of a college counseling business, to buy his child a spot at a prestigious institution, according to court records.

Court documents show that in 2015, Singer told Dameris he could get his son into Georgetown through “the side door” if Dameris donated $300,000 to the tennis program.

After Dameris agreed, Singer reworked Thomas Dameris’ application to make him look like a tennis player, and Georgetown coach Gordon Ernst told the admissions office that Thomas Dameris was a recruit. Upon his son’s acceptance in 2016, Dameris transferred the funds to Singer’s purported charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, from which Singer and Ernst collected their payouts.

“This was not just an attempt to tip the scales in his son’s favor,” assistant U.S. attorney Leslie Wright told the court. Wright said that Dameris, who later tried and failed to get his younger son into UC Berkeley and UCLA using Singer’s tactics, “defrauded an elite university and corrupted the college admissions process more generally.”

Dameris and his lawyers argued he was less involved in the scheme than many of the other parents charged in 2019 after the FBI investigation into Singer. His lawyers said that while Dameris understood that his payment was a quid pro quo, he wasn’t aware that his son’s application had been doctored to make him look like a tennis recruit.

According to his counsel, Dameris thought he was making a legitimate donation to the Georgetown tennis team, rather than an illicit payment to Singer and Ernst, who currently face federal charges.

Dameris and his lawyers emphasized that his son was completely unaware of the scheme and was a strong candidate for admission to Georgetown without the bribe. Thomas Dameris, though not a tennis player, was a high-level rower who ended up competing for Georgetown and whose ACT scores were in the 98th percentile, according to court documents.

Dameris expressed regret that he had deprived his son of the chance to earn admission honestly.

“Because of my actions, I stole all that from him and tarnished his good name,” Dameris said through tears.

The government did not seek jail time in this case, citing both Dameris’ contrition and his family’s serious medical history.

According to court documents, when Thomas Dameris was a freshman in high school, doctors discovered a tumor in his brain, which required more than 10 hours of surgery to remove. Shortly after leaving for college in 2018, Dameris’ younger son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia. He is currently in recovery after two stem cell transplants.

Judge Stearns sympathized with the defendant, who received an outpouring of support from family and friends who praised his character and generosity, court records show.

“Except for [this] you’ve lived a good life,” Stearns said while handing down the sentence. “And I think you’re getting your reward for that.”

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