Through his foundation, Mr. Singer donated $150,000 to DePaul University in Chicago while his son was an undergraduate there, said Carol Hughes, a spokeswoman for the college, noting that the younger Mr. Singer graduated in 2017. The donations, she said, were intended to support students as they studied abroad.
Between 2011 and 2018, parents paid Mr. Singer some $25 million to get their children into the right schools, prosecutors said.
By the end, as investigators were learning of the scheme, Mr. Singer seemed to have his illegal methods well established. He had grown bold about his side door, even cocky.
When he sought out photos of a student that he planned to insert digitally into a real image of an athlete, he breezily told one parent not to worry, he had done this “a million times.” In communications with colleges, he laid out false athletic credentials for students that might easily have been checked and revealed as lies; he listed one high school student as a “3-year Varsity Letter winner” in water polo and “Team M.V.P. 2017,” even though the girl did not know how to play the sport.
Last summer, when an adviser at the University of Southern California asked an incoming freshman about his plans for the track team, the student — unaware that his parents and Mr. Singer had sold him as a track standout, complete with a pole-vaulting photo — phoned home, clearly confused. The student’s worried mother then called Mr. Singer, who brushed it all off. “I would just go about your business and let it be,” he told her.
When investigators stepped in last year, and confronted Mr. Singer with his years of questionable dealings, he turned on some of the families who had poured out their deepest parenting fears and trusted him with their complicated family dynamics.
In phone conversations that Mr. Singer knew were being recorded by the F.B.I., he prodded parents to acknowledge their part in shared crimes. If a parent sensed a problem and suggested meeting in person, Mr. Singer agreed — and then wore a wire.
Even then, he did not fully commit to cooperating with the government, the records show. Mr. Singer had built his business on relationships, recommendations and trust, and he appeared unwilling to tear all of it down again. At one point last year, the authorities say, Mr. Singer secretly reached out to several people involved in the plot — people he had presumably once sold on his know-how, his power, and himself — and warned them about the criminal investigation.