HBS & Stanford MBAs Snared In College Admissions Scandal

Georgetown University campus

A HARVRD MBA GETS HIS SON INTO GEORGETOWN THROUGH A BRIBE TO A TENNIS COACH

Some of the parents in the federal sting operation played it cool when a cooperating witness tried to get them to implicate themselves on wiretapped phone calls. One of them was Stephen Semprevivo, who graduated from Harvard Business School with his MBA in 1994 and is now chief strategy and growth officer of Cydcor, an outsourcing company.

According to the criminal complaint, Semprevivo attempted to bribe a Georgetown University tennis coach to get his son into the school even though his son did not play tennis competitively. The consulting firm drafted notes to the coach, Gordie Ernst, and an application essay for Semprevivo’s son that read in part: “When I walk into a room, people will normally look up and make a comment about my height—I’m 6’5” — and ask me if I play basketball. With a smile, I nod my head, but also insist that sport I put my most energy into is tennis.”

The 2015 application falsely indicated that he played tennis during all four years of high school and was ranked in singles and doubles tennis. It also listed Semprevivo’s son as a “CIF Scholar Athlete” and “Academic All American” in tennis and basketball and stated that he made the “Nike Federation All Academic Athletic Team” in tennis.

THE FOUNDATION RUN BY THE CONSULTING FIRM DOLED OUT $950,000 TO A GEORGETOWN TENNIS COACH

After he was admitted in April, the Semprevivo family trust sent a check to the consulting firm’s foundation for $400,000. The consultant then sent numerous payments to the tennis coach from the foundation account totaling $950,000 for the alleged recruitment of Semprevivo’s son and the children of other clients. The Harvard MBA’s son matriculated to Georgetown in the fall of 2016 but he has not joined the tennis team, according to authorities.

When the sting operation was in place in December of 2018, a cooperating witness at the consulting firm called Semprevivo at the direction of the FBI to tell him the IRS was doing an audit of all gifts to the foundation.

“I think they may call all the folks that we helped get into Georgetown,” the consultant told Semprevivo.

“Um-hmm,” responded Semprevivo.

And so I just wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page…II did not tell them that (your son) was—that he got in through tennis and that he wasn’t a tennis player, but that you guys made a payment to Gordie Ernst in Georgetown tennis. I didn’t say that. I just essentially said that (your son) got in through one of my relationships at Georgetown and just left it at that and that you guys made a donation to our foundation to help underserved kids.”

‘WHATEVER YOU DO, YOU DO’

LinkedIn photo of Stephen Semprevivo who got his Harvard MBA in 1994

“Okay. You know, however, you—that— that— that, you know, we donate to the—we donate to the, you know, foundation,” replied Semprevivo. “It does great work and you know—and, you know, we appreciate, you know, any help outside of that—that we got from you.”

“Perfect.”

“Yeah,” said Semprevivo. “And my experience has been they like to…send you documents and have you kind of do something in writing and we’ll see what happens in terms of them.”

When the cooperating witness from the consulting firm called Semprevivo up again in March of this year to tell him that Georgetown was now conducting an internal investigation, Semprevivo played dumb, according to an excerpt of the wiretap in the criminal complaint.

“Hey, you know, whatever you do, you do,” he said to the consultant. “You know? I really don’t feel comfortable talking to you about this stuff in terms of, kind of, you know, in terms of….your dealings.

“You know, all I know is that we…used you for the charity stuff and we used you for the counseling, and your dealings are your dealings.”

“I get that,” replied the consultant. “And I understand that, but at the same time we were all a part of…”

‘I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS AND I THINK YOU NEED TO BE ACCOUNTABLE’

At this point, Semprevivo cuts him off and says, “No, I don’t agree with that at all…You did what you did and that was your stuff. Okay? I’m not going to take accountability for your actions and I think that you need to be accountable.”

“I’m totally accountable that I got him in through tennis and that you guys were aware of it,” replied the consultant. “And we all agreed that that’s what we were going to do.”

“You know,” said Semprevivo, “I don’t have any details…but I think that you need to be accountable for what you did. So I don’t want to talk about this anymore because, you know, I think there were two separate things. And we used you and we donated. We donated as a charity, and it was a good charity and we were excited we could help you and…in terms of how you do favors for people separately…we appreciate any help you gave us…We paid you well…for the work you did there separately. If you’re trying to turn something around in terms of, you know, what you did and how you did it… then I don’t want to be part of that.”

Most parents were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. If convicted, their sentences could range from 12 months for parents who paid $75,000 in the fraud to 37 months if they had paid $500,000, Courtney Oliva, a researcher at the New York University School of Law, told the New York Times. Guilty pleas could lessen the sentences.

DON’T MISS: CAN YOU BRIBE YOUR WAY INTO BUSINESS SCHOOL?

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.