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A once-acclaimed attorney who paid $75,000 to cheat on daughter’s ACT sentenced to 1 month in prison

Steven Senne/AP

A former high-powered attorney at an international law firm was sentenced Thursday to one month in prison for paying $75,000 to falsely boost his daughter’s ACT score as part of the college admissions scam, the federal prosecutor in Massachusetts announced.

Gordon Caplan, 53, is the fourth parent to be sentenced to prison time in the scam that has led to charges against 35 parents. Prosecutors had asked that Caplan be sentenced to eight months in prison.

The broad admissions scam consisted of a test-cheating scheme and an athlete recruitment scheme, and those who participated in the test-cheating scheme have gotten lower sentences.

The actress Felicity Huffman, who paid $15,000 to participate in the test-cheating scheme, was sentenced to two weeks in prison. Meanwhile, Stephen Semprevivo and Devin Sloane, who paid to get their children into prominent universities under the guise that they were recruited athletes, were each sentenced to four months in prison.

US District Judge Indira Talwani has doled out sentences well below prosecutors’ recommendations in each case. Prosecutors had asked for one month behind bars for Huffman, 13 months in prison for Semprevivo and one year and one day for Sloane.

Sixteen parents, including Caplan, have pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy charges.

Caplan pleaded guilty in May to fraud conspiracy and admitted to paying a fake charity run by scam mastermind Rick Singer to facilitate cheating on his daughter’s ACT exam. As part of the scheme, a paid proctor corrected answers after Caplan’s daughter had completed the test.

Before his arrest, Caplan was a partner and co-chairman of the Willkie Farr & Gallagher law firm. In 2018, The American Lawyer magazine named him one of its “Dealmakers of the Year” for guiding a series of transactions between Hudson’s Bay Co., Rhône Capital and the workspace startup, WeWork.

But Caplan left the law firm as a result of his involvement in the scam, the firm said in April. His license to practice law going forward is also at risk. The Attorney Grievance Committee in New York began disciplinary proceedings against him in July, and Caplan has consented to the suspension of his law license pending those proceedings, according to a sentencing memorandum.

“To put the matter bluntly, Gordon’s professional life has been destroyed,” his attorney, Joshua Levy, wrote in the memorandum.

The complaint against Caplan includes several conversations between Caplan and Singer in which Singer describes how the scheme works and encourages Caplan’s daughter “to be stupid” and apply to a psychologist for extra time on the test.

“It’s just, to be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here,” Caplan said in a recorded phone call, according to the complaint. “I’m worried about the, if (my daughter is) caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”

Caplan previously released a statement apologizing for his actions.

“I take full and sole responsibility for my conduct and I am deeply ashamed of my behavior and my actions,” Caplan said. “I apologize not only to my family, friends, colleagues and the legal bar, but also to students everywhere who have been accepted to college through their own hard work.”

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