36-year-old who allegedly took exams for cheating students was really smart guy
The spotlight is on the actresses and wealthy parents, who are facing charges over an alleged college entrance exam cheating scandal, but there’s a key player whose background has not been widely discussed.
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Mark Riddell — the man accused of actually taking the students’ test for them.
Riddell is facing two criminal charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, honest services mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection to his alleged involvement in the scheme.
The 36-year-old is expected to face a judge in Massachusetts on April 12. ABC News’ efforts to reach Riddell for comment has not been successful as of Tuesday evening.
U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling detailed the process of the alleged scheme at a news conference Tuesday morning and described Riddell as “just a really smart guy.”
“He didn’t have inside information about the answers, he was just smart enough to get a near perfect score on demand or to calibrate the score,” the leading federal prosecutor said of Riddell.
Instead, William “Rick” Singer — who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges for orchestrating the cheating ring — would arrange for Riddell to get a copy of the test from a bribed test administrator and then take it on behalf of the student.
“Singer would discuss with their clients what kind of score they were looking for. If your daughter took the S.A.T. on her own the first time and got a particular score, retaking the exam, if her score goes up too much, that would invite scrutiny. So Singer would discuss with parents what kind of score was impressive, but not too impressive, and then would instruct Riddell to attempt to get that score. And he was just good enough to do it,” Lelling said.
The multi-paged criminal complaint reads that Riddell conspired with Singer from 2011 to 2019.
Although the court documents do not state the amount of times that Riddell was involved in either completing or correcting individuals’ tests, it detailed a June 2018 incident, where the original plan was to have Riddell “secretly correct” one student’s answers, after the student took the test himself.
In a turn of events, the complaint read, the teenager was sick when it came time to travel to the Houston test site so Riddell took the test for him.
However, in at least this one instances when Riddell took the exam in place of high school students, the criminal complaint charges that he did not sit for the exam with other high schoolers — which may have sparked suspicions because based on his college graduation year, he is likely in his mid to late thirties.
To fulfill the plan, according to the criminal complaint, the parent “provided Singer with an exemplar of Parent 1’s son’s handwriting so that Riddell could imitate it when taking the exam in his place.”
Riddell — who is based in Palmetto, Florida, which is south of Tampa — would receive a copy of the ACT from a bribed test administrator and take the exam in his hotel room after flying to one of the two alleged test centers involved in the scandal.
The criminal complaint further charges that Riddell reported back to Singer that he “predicted that he would score a 35 out of 36 on the ACT exam.”
Riddell was paid $10,000 for his part in that scheme and, he was right: he got a 35 on the exam.
The Miami Herald reports that Riddell was the director of college entrance exam preparation at IMG Academy, a Florida-based facility that states it is focused on improving students’ academic and athletic performance. IMG Academy did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment, and Tuesday evening they put out a statement on Twitter announcing that Riddell was suspended indefinitely.
“Today we were made aware of the charges against Mark Riddell. Riddell has been suspended indefinitely as we investigate this matter,” IMG Academy posted in a tweet.
A biography of Riddell was removed from IMG Academy’s website, but a cached version of the site viewed Tuesday afternoon showed that he had worked at the academy since 2006. The cached site read that he is an alumni of Harvard University and “assists thousands of students in gaining admission to top American universities such as Stanford, Duke, Columbia, Dartmouth, University of Chicago, and many other notable institutions.”
He is also listed a ranked professional tennis player and an alum of IMG Academy himself.