'Varsity Blues' Coach Says Virus Work Merits Light Sentence

By Chris Villani
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Law360 (March 12, 2021, 5:30 PM EST) -- The former head men's soccer coach at UCLA told a judge Friday he should serve no more than three months in prison for his role in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions case, in part because he's scored a new job with a company working to combat viruses like COVID-19.

Jorge Salcedo, 48, acknowledged that the federal sentencing guidelines for his guilty plea to a single count of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery call for 37 to 46 months in prison. But Salcedo's legal team argued that a shorter sentence is more appropriate given how much he has already suffered through his arrest and prosecution.

"He lost a job he loved, nearly lost his family, and was humiliated in the soccer community, which was his life's work and focus, and in connection with which he will never coach competitively again," the memorandum states.

Salcedo's attorneys said that on March 12, 2019, armed federal agents came rushing through his front door to arrest him, terrifying his family in the process and leaving his children sobbing, shaking and screaming "They have Daddy! They have Daddy!"

Since that day, the memorandum states, Salcedo has "worked exceedingly hard to turn his life around; recommitted to his family, his wife, and his church; and ultimately obtained meaningful employment in a company that is developing novel technology to effectively address the spread of viruses, including COVID-19, around the world."

Washington-based MedeSol Inc. hired Salcedo, he wrote, to serve as the company's president and head of business development. MedeSol is involved in commercializing bio-protective clothing for use by health care workers and others, and distributes a patented disinfectant that can kill viruses for up to 28 days in various surfaces, according to the filing.

A technical adviser to the company "believes Mr. Salcedo will be an effective force for good in the world, and would be disappointed if the mistakes Mr. Salcedo has made impede this meaningful and worthy outlet now for his exceptional talents," the document states.

The government, in its own Friday filing, pushed for an 18-month prison term along with a $200,000 forfeiture and a $95,000 fine. Prosecutors argued that Salcedo was an eager, repeat player in the scheme and was solely motivated by greed.

"He took the entirety of the bribe money into his personal accounts, unlike other coaches who also put some of the money toward the university," prosecutors said.

Salcedo pled guilty for the second time in January after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upended his first plea. The former coach pled guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering in July, but U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in November ruled that college admissions slots are not "property" as they pertain to the federal wire fraud charges.

Her ruling cited Kelly v. U.S. , the top court's May decision overturning the Bridgegate convictions.

According to the government, Salcedo took $100,000 from "Varsity Blues" mastermind William "Rick" Singer in 2016 to help the daughter of Davina and Bruce Isackson, who were also charged in the case, get into UCLA as a purported women's soccer recruit.

In 2018, Salcedo also took $100,000 from Singer to "recruit" the son of Xiaoning Sui to the school's men's soccer team, prosecutors said. Salcedo was immediately placed on leave and then resigned days after the court unsealed the indictment against him.

Singer, the Isacksons, and Sui have all pled guilty.

Salcedo claimed he did not have the same lavish lifestyle or privilege as the wealthy parents ensnared in the nationwide scheme to grease the college admissions process for their children through bribes. The son of an Olympic soccer player and longtime coach, he grew up under considerable pressure to succeed before going on to a pro soccer career and coaching career of his own, according to the defense's sentencing filing.

"But for the parents' collective willingness to cheat the admission system to obtain even further advantages for their already advantaged children, Mr. Singer's scheme would not have worked, and Mr. Salcedo would never have been tempted to take bribes of money he needed to meet his own family's expenses," the memorandum argues.

But prosecutors countered by saying that, unlike the parents, Salcedo cannot fall back on the argument of acting out of the love of a child he wanted to get into college.

"As a coach, Salcedo had a duty to his team and his school," the government argued. "He abused his position — and their trust — out of self-interest, and in the process undermined the integrity of the higher education system, which already favors those with money and privilege."

Both counsel for Salcedo and a government representative declined to comment when reached Friday.

The government is represented by Kristen A. Kearney of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Salcedo is represented by Susan G. Winkler of Winkler Law LLC, and Thomas C. Frongillo of Campbell Conroy & O'Neil PC.

The case is U.S. v Ernst et al., case number 1:19-cr-10081, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

--Additional reporting by Brian Dowling. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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USA v. Ernst et al

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March 05, 2019

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