Struppa: Chapman probe into apparent payoffs should conclude in several weeks

In an email to the Chapman community on March 20, Struppa said the university has been working with the DOJ for several months and that the university is conducting it’s own probe into the admissions scandal. Graphic by Maggie Mayer using a photo from Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash.

Chapman University has engaged “external attorney investigators” who have worked in “senior positions in the Department of Justice” to examine the college’s ties to the national admissions scandal, President Daniele Struppa announced Wednesday.

Chapman has been cooperating with the Department of Justice “for several months” and has not been accused of wrongdoing, Struppa said in a mass email sent to students and staff. Yet, he noted, “it is imperative that we look deeper into this situation and do a thorough investigation to whether we are indeed living up to our values and principles.” The investigation, which probes the university’s interaction with the tainted college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer of Newport Beach, should be completed within several weeks, Struppa said.

Struppa’s email comes after Chapman University was connected to the scandal in the indictment of David Sidoo, a retired Canadian football player accused of paying $100,000 to have a ringer take the SAT for his son, Dylan. Dylan Sidoo was admitted to Chapman as a film production major in 2012 with fraudulent SAT scores before transferring to the University of Southern California two years later, according to court papers and Dylan Sidoo’s social media.

Chapman allegedly received a total of $325,000 in donations between 2014 and 2015 from The Key Worldwide Foundation, a fraudulent charity which officials say was used to launder bribe money from parents seeking to get their children accepted to universities for which they were not qualified. It is not yet clear who at Chapman accepted the money, if it arrived.

“I am confident these allegations are not a reflection of the culture we have at Chapman,” Struppa wrote, acknowledging he had been deluged with “countless messages” about the scandal and Chapman’s practices. At this point in time, the university cannot act on the alleged donations or students that may have connections to Singer’s operations because there isn’t enough information available, according to the email.

When the investigation is completed, Struppa said he will “communicate what [he] is able to regarding the findings.” He also said he was “committed to demonstrating transparency as we work to find resolution.”

Here’s what we know about Chapman’s connection to the nationwide college admissions scandal

Multiple Chapman officials did not answer questions concerning the allocation of $325,000 allegedly donated to the university by The Key Worldwide Foundation. Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash.

Who got the money and what was it used for? That is the question on the minds of Chapman students and workers after the university was revealed to have a role in the largest  admissions scandal in U.S. history.

Chapman University received a $150,000 donation in 2016 and $175,000 in 2015 from The Worldwide Key Foundation, according to the Foundation’s 990 forms.  It is unknown who received the funds at Chapman, how the funds were disbursed, or what – if anything – was expected in exchange for the donations.

The Key Worldwide Foundation was founded by Newport resident William “Rick” Singer who ran a college consultancy called Edge College and Career Network, also known as Key Worldwide. The college admission consultancy is at the center of a national scandal in which coaches,  proctors and test takers were allegedly bribed to help get unqualified students into elite colleges. Singer’s operation has ensnared elite schools across the country, including the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Southern California (USC), Yale University, Georgetown College, and Stanford University.

The massive investigation, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” also swept up barons of industry and celebrities. “Fuller House” actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters, Isabella Rose and YouTube influencer Olivia Jade into USC. (The girls reportedly left the school this week.)  Felicity Huffman allegedly made a $15,000 donation to the Key Foundation to have another person take an SAT for her older daughter.

The charity’s website (now deactivated) claimed the foundation helped inner-city youth and poor Cambodian children,  but prosecutors say it was a slush fund to launder bribes paid by parents to coaches, test proctors and universities to obtain college admission for their children.

The admissions scandal – thought to have involved some $25 million in bribes –  set social media ablaze and has sparked conversations about fairness and equality on campuses throughout the nation. It was bad enough, said pundits, that the offspring of the super wealthy were advantaged via the “back door” of large bequests to certain universities. But documentation of a “side door” via outright cheating engendered a class anger that has yet to quell.

“Chapman University has been and is currently cooperating with the Department of Justice in their investigation. Chapman prides itself on an open and fair admission process. We are not aware nor have we been advised that we have been involved in any wrongdoing,” Chapman’s VP of Marketing and Communications Jamie S. Ceman wrote in an email to Prowl.

“Chapman University like all great institutions routinely receives funds from foundations and any irregularities in the gifts from the Key Worldwide Foundation, should they exist, were and are totally unknown to us. We take this matter very seriously and intend to review this relationship in depth to assure ourselves that our principles have not in any way been compromised,” Ceman stated.

The donations from Key Worldwide, as well as the admission of student thought to have been admitted after having a proxy take his SAT, occurred while Jim Doti was president of Chapman University. Doti rejoined the faculty in fall of 2016 after 25 years as president.

“I have no knowledge of these donations, if in fact they occurred,” President Emeritus Jim Doti stated in an email to Prowl, adding: “I think it’s best you work with Ms. Ceman.”

“Due to the ongoing investigation I cannot comment further,” Ceman said.

President Daniele Struppa issued a statement via email Wednesday repeating Ceman’s remarks and declining to  comment further.

The alleged donations from the Key Foundation to the university followed an incident in which a parent allegedly paid Singer $100,000 to have a ringer take the SAT on behalf of his son, who was eventually admitted to Chapman.

The parent, David Sidoo, is accused of paying an accomplice to take SAT exams for his two sons, according to an  indictment filed by the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on March 5.

David Sidoo is a three-time All Canadian football player, businessman and philanthropist. He is accused of mail and wire fraud by “cheating on college entrance exams” and “submitting the falsified test scores to colleges,” the indictment states. His son, Dylan Sidoo, was admitted to Chapman as a film production major in 2012. He later transferred to and graduated from USC, according to his social media accounts.

Bob Bassett, the dean of Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, did not respond to a request for comment.

The donations to Chapman came years after Dylan was admitted, and are not mentioned in David Sidoo’s indictment.

David Sidoo is accused of paying Singer $100,000 to have someone else take the SAT in place of his older son, Dylan.

Dylan originally scored a 1460 out of 2400 on his SAT, according to the indictment. The test-taker was instructed “not to obtain too high a score” and received a 1670, said the document. The fraudulent results were sent to an unnamed Chapman administrator by David Sidoo in December 2011, the indictment states.

David Sidoo is also accused of paying an undisclosed amount to have someone pose as his younger son and take a Canadian high school graduation exam as well as the SAT, for which he paid another $100,000, according to the indictment.

David Sidoo could not be reached. Dylan Sidoo did not respond to a request for comment.

Prowl reached out to the Faculty Senate, which is a committee of representatives from each college at Chapman, to see if the Senate plans to open its own investigation.

“We simply don’t have enough information at this point to take any action or position on the college admissions scandal. We’ll be watching carefully as more information becomes available,” Faculty Senate President Paul Gulino wrote in an email.

Students discovering Chapman was involved in the nation’s biggest admissions scandal in history expressed disappointment and cynicism.

“I’m not surprised about this at all,” said junior computer science major Abigail Tan. It’s sad, she said, when some people work so hard to go to college “while some people just buy their way in.”

Tan, who works in the Cross Cultural Center, said the wealthy have always had an advantage in the college admissions process.

“When you are in high school preparing to go to college, you feel that class distance and struggle, because people who are more wealthy tend to have the privilege to go to all these classes (and SAT prep),” she said.

Colette Cucinotta isn’t optimistic about much changing in higher education.

“I honestly don’t think this is going to stop (cheating and bribery),” said the sophomore integrated education studies major. “Maybe a couple people will learn their lesson.”

Dodge professor Angela Paura said the “egregious duplicity” in those involved in the scandal is unimaginable.

“I am appalled by the extent of deception by parents and some university officials and coaches,” she said. “Perhaps the parents were burnishing their own reputations by cheating to send their children to elite universities.”


McKenna Sulick, Jillie Herrold, Maddie Taber, Taylor Thorne and Autumn Sumruld contributed to this report.