It has been a month since the college admissions scandal erupted out of nowhere, implicating 33 parents on criminal charges related to a long-running scheme that prosecutors say was led by William “Rick” Singer to fraudulently land their children at some of America’s top colleges.
The story has largely moved on to the confines of courtrooms, with some of the parents indicted choosing to plead guilty and others promising to fight the case tooth and nail. The process will be long, and the storyline may fade.
But in the meantime, there is some discernible paranoia (and, to be sure, some schadenfreude) in corridors of wealth like Silicon Valley about whether there are more shoes to drop — marquee names who were caught up in Operation Varsity Blues but have so far evaded detection or prosecution. And there’s good reason to think so: While prosecutors only filed charges against fewer than three dozen parents, Singer testified that he had led 761 families through a “side door” into the universities of their choosing.
“Every year there is a group of families, especially where I am right now in the Bay Area, Palo Alto, I just flew in. That they want guarantees, they want this thing done. They don’t want to be messing around with this thing. And so they want in at certain schools,” Singer said on a recorded phone call transcribed in the indictment. “So I did 761 what I would call ‘side doors.’”
There are a lot of megarich families in the Bay Area, and some are likely nervous.
It’s not clear that all the families Singer mentioned committed prosecutable crimes. The 50 total people charged by the feds were caught on wires or otherwise directly implicated on alleged crimes like conspiracy to commit racketeering or mail fraud. The other 700 families Singer said he aided might have not been conspirators on any of these charges — or the cases may lack prosecutorial evidence, like a taped conversation.
But there’s a healthy amount of guessing among venture capitalists one month later about who will be the next high-profile person outed for retaining Singer’s services. And what we’ve learned, even at this early stage, is that you don’t have to be in prison to find your life transformed by a whiff of scandal.
Chris Schaepe, a venture capitalist at Lightspeed Venture Partners, found himself out of a job after he told his partners that his family was the one referred to in an indictment against a coach who allegedly opened a side door for Schaepe’s son. Schaepe isn’t behind bars, but his reputation has obviously been tarnished.
John Doerr, the venture capital legend who retained Singer for his daughter’s college prep, says he merely sought test-tutoring and application-help services — nothing illegal. The same goes for Doerr’s partner at Kleiner Perkins, Ted Schlein. Both are still in their jobs, but the two are now having to battle their connection to a scandal, and there are certainly hecklers in Silicon Valley who don’t buy their defense.
The probe has even ensnared the golfer Phil Mickelson and the Hall of Fame (and moonlighting venture capitalist) Joe Montana.
Even if prosecutors don’t bring more charges, there remains a decent chance that Singer’s deep pool of clients is forced to defend their past decisions in public. Investigations have been launched by the US Department of Education, by several of the universities where coaches or administrators are accused of misconduct, and by institutions referred to in the charges, like Goldman Sachs.
So given the unknown unknowns, it’s not surprising that Silicon Valley’s money set is on edge.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.