Del Mar executive pleads guilty in admissions scandal; remaining parents are fighting charges

Toby MacFarlane leaving federal court in Boston in April. The Del Mar executive pleaded guilty Friday to fraud conspiracy.
(Michael Dwyer / AP)

Five years before he would be charged with fraud conspiracy, with his name included in a parade of actresses, financiers and executives accused of ripping off some of the country’s top colleges, Toby MacFarlane was nearly undone by an email.

In August 2014, USC’s athletic department received an email from the women’s soccer coach, who was puzzled. There was an incoming freshman on his roster, a young woman from Del Mar.

She was MacFarlane’s daughter. What she wasn’t was a soccer player, her father admitted Friday, June 21, in federal court in Boston as he pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy.

Prosecutors recommended that MacFarlane, a title insurance executive, spend 15 months in prison and pay a fine of $95,000.

To ensure his daughter was admitted to USC as a fake soccer recruit, MacFarlane in 2014 paid $200,000 to William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach college consultant who has confessed to overseeing a brazen scheme to slip the children of wealthy families into USC, Georgetown, Yale and other top universities with bribes and rigged tests.

Thirty-three parents, and 50 people in all, have been charged by the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, which unraveled Singer’s operation. MacFarlane is the last of the 14 parents who said they would plead guilty to do so; the remaining 19 have pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the allegations against them.

At a cost of $250,000, MacFarlane in 2016 availed himself again of what Singer called his “side door” — bribing coaches to designate the children of his clients as recruited athletes, regardless of whether they played the sport competitively.

MacFarlane’s son was admitted to USC as a recruited basketball player, despite not playing the sport at the varsity level until his senior year of high school, according to prosecutors. He also stood just 5 feet 5.

He did not play basketball at USC and attended the school only briefly, withdrawing in May 2018, prosecutors said.

MacFarlane’s daughter, however, graduated from USC in 2018. She evaded detection by the confused women’s soccer coach and other university employees, but there were several close calls, court documents show.

In the summer of 2014, after she had been admitted, a USC counselor told MacFarlane’s daughter to change her class schedule to free up Fridays for games and travel. She forwarded the email to her father, who sent it to Singer.

“If you speak to them let them know that [your daughter] has an injury — Plantar Fasciitis and will not be practicing or playing for a while,” Singer replied.

In August 2014, the USC women’s soccer coach emailed the same counselor. MacFarlane’s daughter, he wrote, “doesn’t play for us.”

The coach emailed MacFarlane’s daughter as well.

“I’m sorry but I don’t have you on my list of players. Could you contact me asap please,” he wrote. He also emailed a member of USC’s athletic department, saying: “I don’t know who she is.”

The hiccups in her father’s plot with Singer likely stemmed from turnover within the USC women’s soccer program. When the two began conspiring in September 2013, Ali Khosroshahin was the team’s head coach. He was fired in November 2013 by then-athletic director Pat Haden.

Khosroshahin took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, prosecutors say, and in exchange he recruited the children of Singer’s clients to USC during his tenure there and facilitated bribes to coaches at other schools after he left.

Khosroshahin and his assistant at USC, Laura Janke, were paid $50,000 to misrepresent MacFarlane’s daughter as an elite soccer player, whose bogus accolades included the distinction of “U.S. Club Soccer All-American” in her final three years of high school, prosecutors alleged.

Khosroshahin said earlier this month he will plead guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge and cooperate with prosecutors. Janke has pleaded guilty to the same charge and is also cooperating with investigators.

Singer, too, cooperated, calling dozens of his former clients and recounting crimes they allegedly committed together. He contacted MacFarlane in October 2018; the FBI was recording the call.

Singer gave MacFarlane a cover story — he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, which was probing the sham foundation he used to pass bribes from parents to coaches. Singer discussed with MacFarlane the bribes he’d paid, but told him, “I’m not going to say anything about that.”

MacFarlane concurred: “I think that’s the — the proper tact, for sure.

“Are you expecting me to get some backlash on that?” MacFarlane asked. No, Singer assured him. “There’s hundreds of people involved. Hundreds.”
--- Matthew Ormseth is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times