Vancouver businessman David Sidoo charged in U.S. college bribery scandal

Laura Kane - The Canadian Press

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VANCOUVER — A prominent Vancouver businessman and philanthropist is among 50 people charged in what United States authorities are alleging is the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted.

Advantage Lithium CEO David Sidoo, a celebrated donor to the University of British Columbia and a former Canadian Football League player for the B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders, is accused of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in Massachusetts.

David Sidoo. Photo by Dan Toulgoet/Vancouver Courier files

Sidoo’s lawyer, Richard Schonfeld, said in a statement that his client has been recognized for his philanthropic endeavours, which are “the true testament to his character.”

“The charge that has been lodged against David is an allegation that carries with it the presumption that he is innocent. We look forward to representing our case in court, and ask that people don’t rush to judgment in the meantime.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

The U.S. Justice Department says Sidoo, 59, was arrested in San Jose, Calif., on Friday and he appeared in a California court on Monday. No date has been set for his initial appearance in federal court in Boston.

An indictment alleges Sidoo paid $100,000 in 2011 to have an individual secretly take the SAT in place of his older son. Sidoo also emailed copies of his son’s driver’s licence and student card for the purpose of creating a falsified identification card for the individual, it asserts.

The individual, whose name is redacted, flew from Tampa, Fla., to Vancouver to take the SAT on behalf of Sidoo’s son, the indictment alleges. The person was directed not to obtain too high of a score, because Sidoo’s son had previously taken the exam himself and scored 1,460 out of 2,400, it says.

The person used the falsified identification card to pose as Sidoo’s son to take the SAT in his place, scoring 1,670, the indictment says.

The indictment says the score was emailed to an administrator at Chapman University, a private California university, where Sidoo’s son was admitted and later enrolled.

Sidoo also paid someone to take a Canadian high school graduation exam for his older son in 2012, the indictment alleges. It does not disclose the amount Sidoo is accused of paying.

The document alleges Sidoo agreed to pay another $100,000 in 2012 for someone to take the SAT in place of his younger son. The person was directed to obtain a high score because Sidoo’s younger son had not previously taken the SAT, and the person scored 2,280, it says.

Sidoo paid the agreed-upon sum by wire transfer to a company bank account in California the following year, it says.

In 2013 and 2014, the falsified SAT scores obtained on behalf of his younger son were sent to universities as part of his college applications, including Yale University and Georgetown University, the indictment asserts.

The score was also sent to the University of California-Berkeley, where the younger son was accepted and later enrolled, it says.

The indictment also references an alleged phone conversation between Sidoo and an unidentified individual on or around Oct. 25, 2018. In the call, Sidoo noted that his older son was applying to business school, the indictment says.

“I thought you were gonna call me and say I got a 2100 on my GMAT,” Sidoo allegedly said, referencing a standardized test that is widely used as part of the business school admissions process with a highest possible score of 800.

The unnamed person allegedly responded, “They don’t have a 2100 for the GMAT. But I would do my best to get it for ya,” to which Sidoo allegedly replied, “I know.”

If convicted of the charge, Sidoo must forfeit any property that is derived from proceeds traceable to the offence, the indictment says.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among those charged in the investigation, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.

No students were charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were not aware of what was going on.

Sidoo graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1982 where he held a four-year football scholarship with the UBC Thunderbirds. After graduating, he was the first Indo-Canadian to play professionally in the CFL.

He retired from football in 1988 and pursued a career in brokerages and private investment banking. He was founding shareholder of American Oil & Gas Inc., which was sold in 2010 for over US$600 million, according to his website. He is now CEO of Advantage Lithium, a lithium explorer and developer.

Sidoo has received the Order of B.C. and is a member of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

He is also a former board member of the University of British Columbia, where he helped establish a foundation that supports the Thunderbirds. A field on campus is named after him.