A former USC athletics administrator was sentenced Friday to six months behind bars for her role in the fraud and bribery scheme in which the children of wealthy parents gained admission to some of the country’s top universities as fake sports recruits.
Donna Heinel, 61, was also ordered to serve two years of supervised release and pay $160,000 in restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.
Heinel pleaded guilty in November 2021 in Boston federal court to “honest services” wire fraud for arranging for more than two dozen students to get into USC in exchange for over $1.3 million in bribes.
Prosecutors wrote in court papers that Heinel “abused a position of trust in a manner that significantly facilitated the commission of the offense.”
Heinel worked with the scheme’s organizer, William “Rick” Singer, to coordinate students’ admissions to USC as fake athletic recruits over a four-year period beginning in 2014.
Singer was sentenced Wednesday to 3 1/2 years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $10 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. He was also ordered to forfeit $8.7 million in assets tied to the scheme.
According to the complaint filed in March 2019, Heinel presented applicants to admissions committees in exchange for payments from Singer.
Before she entered into the plea deal, Heinel was heading to trial on a series of federal charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and honest services mail and wire fraud. She faced up to 60 years behind bars if convicted on all counts, prosecutors noted.
Almost 55 people were charged in the case, including nearly three dozen parents who subsequently pleaded guilty, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli. Parents have received punishments ranging from probation to 15 months in prison.
Singer, the Newport Beach consultant at the center of the scheme, pleaded guilty in March 2019 to charges of racketeering, money laundering, fraud and obstruction.
Heinel admitted to helping funnel cash to Singer and making $20,000 a month in a phony consulting deal with him.
In 2008, while working at the university, Heinel established a side business, Clear the Clearinghouse, wherein she advised high school administrators on NCAA guidelines for athletes, a service that is usually available for free. Her annual fee for the service was reportedly up to $700.
Heinel, who was let go by USC on the day she was indicted, listed her Long Beach home for just under $2 million in the wake of the scandal.
Three other members of USC’s athletics staff were also indicted in the “Operation Varsity Blues” investigation.
Ali Khosroshahin, a former head women’s soccer coach, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering and was sentenced to six months in home confinement; ex-water polo coach Jovan Vavic was convicted of bribery last April but was subsequently granted a new trial; and former assistant women’s soccer coach Laura Janke pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit racketeering and was sentenced to time served and community service.
Also, Jorge Salcedo, a former men’s soccer coach at UCLA, was sentenced in March 2021 to eight months behind bars for his plea to a federal conspiracy count.