US college admissions scandal ensnares giants of finance and law5 min read . Updated: 14 Mar 2019, 11:27 AM IST
- While two Hollywood actresses were the most recognizable figures to face charges, they were outnumbered by business titans
William E. McGlashan Jr. was sitting on Richard Branson’s private island several years ago when the idea first struck him: He would create a new venture capital fund focused on ethical investing.
He had been inspired during a conference on the island also attended by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Jeff Skoll, the first president of eBay. Soon after, he would recruit them and the U2 singer Bono to the Rise Fund on the promise of doing good.
Yet Tuesday, McGlashan was one of 50 people caught up in a federal investigation into college admissions fraud, a scandal that has ensnared prominent parents who stand accused of paying bribes to give their children an edge.
While two Hollywood actresses were the most recognizable figures to face charges, they were outnumbered by business titans who are not household names.
McGlashan is widely seen as one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful investors, a partner at the $130 billion investment firm TPG. The fund he oversaw there invested in prominent brands including Airbnb, Spotify and Uber. He has been placed on leave from TPG and Rise.
Also charged were Gordon Caplan, a top mergers and acquisitions attorney who was a co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr, and Doug Hodge, the retired chief executive of PIMCO, one of the world’s biggest bond fund managers. Caplan was placed on leave Wednesday, and Hodge’s name was stripped from the website of Sway Ventures, an investment firm where he was a venture partner.
Hodge is also listed as a board member for two wealthy private schools in California: Sage Hill School and the Thacher School. Blossom Beatty Pidduck, Thacher’s head of school, said Wednesday that Hodge had been on the board since 2011 and the board was discussing whether to let him continue serving. Messages left with Sage Hill were not returned Wednesday.
Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were the boldface names in the charges announced Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Boston, but such celebrities may still be able to find work after their cases are resolved. That won’t necessarily be the case for the high-powered lawyers and money managers on the list.
“Professionals, their stock in trade has to be their integrity," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “Celebrities have a different stock in trade."
Caplan, who worked on complex deals for Hudson Bay Group including the sale of Lord & Taylor’s former flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, would lose his law license in New York if convicted of a felony.
McGlashan, whose reputation drew star power to a fund with the idea of positive social change, may have a hard time raising money if he has a felony conviction on his record. And Hodge, who told Harvard Business Review last year that he was surprised “how quickly opportunity came my way" after his retirement, could see those chances to do something new dry up.
After the charges were announced, the firms quickly sought to distance themselves from the accused. TPG’s announcement noted that the charges against McGlashan were for “personal misconduct," and Willkie Farr pointed out that the case against Caplan was “a personal matter and does not involve Willkie or any of its clients." Willkie also removed Caplan’s biography from the firm’s website.
A lawyer for Caplan and a spokesman for McGlashan declined to comment Wednesday. Hodge could not be reached for comment.
Neither TPG nor Willkie is likely to be undone by the charges against a leadership figure, but both firms may face uncomfortable questions from clients and investors. TPG, for example, has long cultivated an image as a progressive and trustworthy institution. It moved quickly to install Jim Coulter, its chief executive and a co-founder, as acting chief of the Rise Fund.
McGlashan is listed as one of several “key men" in agreements with investors who committed money to TPG, but his suspension — or potential permanent exit — would not unwind those agreements unless several more of TPG’s top managers departed, according to a person familiar with the firm’s operations, who was not authorized to speak publicly. Investors in the fund have committed money for several years, and the case is unlikely to have a direct financial impact on the fund.
On Wednesday, McGlashan stepped down from the board of STX Entertainment, the film studio he helped found with producer Robert Simonds. The news was shared in an internal memo sent to STX employees and reviewed by The New York Times. STX is funded in large part by TPG, which said in the memo that it remained committed to the studio, whose movies include the teen comedy “The Edge of Seventeen."
Rebecca Roiphe, a former prosecutor and a professor at New York Law School who specializes in legal ethics, said she expected few clients would leave Willkie Farr because of the charges against Caplan, who in April was named a “deal maker of the year" by The American Lawyer, a trade magazine. But she said the case could give potential clients a reason to ask questions about the firm’s culture and its process for selecting lawyers to manage the firm.
“They made the choice to have this person represent the firm," Roiphe said.
Charging documents filed by federal prosecutors describe how parents were willing to pay William Singer, the founder of the Edge College & Career Network, a college preparatory business, up to $75,000 to arrange for cheating on standardized tests or hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe college coaches to recruit a student. Singer, who has pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice, cooperated with the investigation.
According to prosecutors, Singer advised McGlashan to claim that his son had learning disabilities, which would allow the student more time to complete an entrance exam, and McGlashan gave $50,000 to Singer’s charity. The men also discussed creating a fake football recruiting profile for his son.
Hodge paid more than half a million dollars to get two of his children into the University of Southern California, according to prosecutors, who also said his discussions with Singer had been captured on secret recordings.
Caplan was also caught on tape, authorities said. In discussing the scheme to improve his daughter’s college entrance exam score in return for $75,000, prosecutors said, Caplan asked Singer a number of times if anyone has gotten “caught" or “ever gotten into an issue with this."
At one point, prosecutors said, he told Singer: “Keep in mind I am a lawyer. So I am sort of rule-oriented."