Former Solana Beach surfing exec sentenced to two months in college bribery scandal
Jeffrey Bizzack admitted in a guilty plea to paying $250,000 to get his son into USC as a volleyball recruit
When faced with the possibility of federal investigators uncovering the bribe that got his son into the University of Southern California, Jeffrey Bizzack’s first instinct was to lay low.
“Just keep my head down” is what he told William “Rick” Singer, the scheme’s mastermind, in a secretly recorded phone call meant to illicit a confession.
That call was made last October, months before the bombshell scandal involving numerous wealthy families and elite educational institutions was made public. In March, as the first 30-some parents were charged, the Solana Beach entrepreneur kept quiet.
Several weeks later, after he discovered that he was personally under investigation, he decided to confess.
In a Boston courtroom on Wednesday, Oct. 30, Bizzack was sentenced to two months in prison. He was also ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and serve 900 hours of community service over three years of supervised release.
Defense attorneys had argued for leniency in a sentencing memorandum, saying Bizzack’s case was unique in that he approached the government before charges were filed against him with a willingness to plead guilty, even sitting down for a debriefing with USC.
While prosecutors commended Bizzack for coming forward, they argued that time behind bars — not probation or home confinement — was required.
“All parents want the best for their children, but most have a moral compass, and the self-restraint to stop short of achieving their goals through bribery and fraud,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney wrote in the sentencing memo. “For those, like Bizzack and his co-conspirators, who lack that restraint — for whom the prospect of breaking the law and lying to cover it up is not, by itself, sufficient to stop them from committing crimes — the certainty of incarceration is the best and surest deterrent.”
His sentence falls in the middle range of terms handed down to other parents who’ve pleaded guilty, with five months for Napa Valley winemaker Agustin Huneeus Jr. on the higher end to 14 days for actress Felicity Huffman.
Bizzack, 59, is the longtime business partner of surfing legend Kelly Slater and has worked on projects that include environmentally sustainable clothing and artificial wave technology using renewable energy. He resigned from his employment and board membership at various companies in preparation for his guilty plea.
“He has found success as an entrepreneur, but he has not been driven by a single-minded desire to make money,” defense attorney Seth Berman wrote in his argument. “Instead, he has always combined his efforts to build productive businesses with a vision intended to improve the wider world — a vision and culture that he has embedded into his businesses, and that he has lived through his charitable works and efforts to help those in need.”
According to court documents, a mutual acquaintance introduced Bizzack to Singer, who ran a college placement service called The Key out of Newport Beach. While the business had a legitimate side to it, Singer was also bribing a network of college administrators and coaches to get children of wealthy parents into universities as athletic recruits — through what Singer liked to call “the side door.”
Bizzack paid $250,000 to get his son admitted, with $200,000 to Singer’s shell charitable foundation and $50,000 to a USC athletic fund in 2017, according to prosecutors.
With help from two USC officials, Bizzack’s son was falsely sold to the school “as a nationally ranked volleyball player, high school team captain and starting setter, and the recipient of a number of league awards,” prosecutors said. In fact, Bizzack’s son did not play volleyball, and his profile included the photograph of another athlete playing the sport.
Bizzack kept the side-door recruitment from his son, according to defense lawyers.
In an email thanking Singer for his help, Bizzack said his son was still “on cloud nine” upon being accepted.
Singer, who by last October was cooperating with government investigators, made the secret recorded phone call to Bizzack to build evidence in the case against him. It is unclear why Bizzack was not arrested months later when the scandal was revealed.
While many of the 31 other parents have pleaded guilty, 10 are continuing to fight the charges, including Elisabeth Kimmel, who at one time owned the KFMB stations in San Diego as part of her family-owned Midwest Television Inc. She splits her time between homes in La Jolla and Las Vegas.
Last week, prosecutors intensified the case with an additional charge — trying to bribe officials at universities that receive at least $10,000 in federal funding.
The new superseding indictment filed in federal court in Boston, where the case is being prosecuted, means the defendants could face additional prison time or fines if found guilty.
The new charge is on top of counts of fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.
Kimmel is accused of paying $475,000 to have her two children admitted to Georgetown and USC as athletic recruits, even though the children did not play those sports, according to the complaint.
She is accused of paying the bribes through her family’s nonprofit, the Meyer Charitable Foundation.
— Kristina Davis is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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