June 3, 2019; Washington Post
In an interesting turn of events, it appears some of the parents rounded up in the college bribery scandal who have not yet pled guilty will defend their actions by saying they sincerely did not see a distinction between the kind of “charity” where you buy a university placement for your child and, say, the kind where you give a big gift directly to the desired university or college and expect special dispensation.
In fact, Martin Weinberg, an attorney who represents two of the fathers, observes that a donation to a university or athletic program is “akin to an everyday event” and therefore should not be considered a bribe.
Okay, that’s interesting, and we can see his point, but it raises some larger questions for sure.
Weinberg represents Canadian businessman David Sidoo, who is charged with paying $200,000 for a stand-in to take his sons’ college entrance exams. “If the money went to a school, it’s not a bribe,” Weinberg says. “Many of the clients would contend that if payments were made to a charity or sports organization, that it is not a bribe.”
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Is that really the point? Thankfully, Assistant US Attorney Eric Rosen brought some rain to that parade, calling it a distinction without a difference.
“It simply doesn’t matter whether the money went to a coach’s program or the coach directly,” Rosen told the court. “A bribe is simply a quid pro quo.”
Of course, this challenges head-on the least-well-kept secret in high-dollar philanthropy: Some “donations” coincidentally go to support elite nonprofit institutions (prep schools, universities, etc.) you want to have in your pocket to support the life you wish to live, with all the benefits of an accompanying tax break.
So, perhaps the defense has a case. Nothing to see here, folks; move along.—Ruth McCambridge