Ex-coach gets 6 months in college scam, runs from courthouse

BOSTON (AP) — The former men's tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin sprinted away from a scrum of reporters and his own lawyers Monday after he was sentenced to six months in prison for taking a $100,000 bribe as part of a sweeping college admissions scam.

Michael Center collapsed into his chair and sobbed with his face in his hands after the judge declared he would spend time behind bars for actions that undermined the public's faith in the college admissions process.

“I believe you are a good man, but this is one of those things that just can’t be overlooked,” U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns told him.

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Felicity Huffman photographed after college admissions scandal
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Felicity Huffman photographed after college admissions scandal
TOPSHOT - Actress Felicity Huffman is seen inside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles, on March 12, 2019. - Two Hollywood actresses including Oscar-nominated 'Desperate Housewives' star Felicity Huffman are among 50 people indicted in a nationwide university admissions scam, court records unsealed in Boston on March 12, 2019 showed. The accused, who also include chief executives, allegedly cheated to get their children into elite schools, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.Huffman, 56, and Lori Loughlin, 54, who starred in 'Full House,' are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. A federal judge set bond at $250,000 for Felicity Huffman after she was charged in a massive college admissions cheating scandal. (Photo by DAVID MCNEW / AFP) (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)
Actress Felicity Huffman is seen inside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles, on March 12, 2019. - Two Hollywood actresses including Oscar-nominated 'Desperate Housewives' star Felicity Huffman are among 50 people indicted in a nationwide university admissions scam, court records unsealed in Boston on March 12, 2019 showed. The accused, who also include chief executives, allegedly cheated to get their children into elite schools, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.Huffman, 56, and Lori Loughlin, 54, who starred in 'Full House,' are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. A federal judge set bond at $250,000 for Felicity Huffman after she was charged in a massive college admissions cheating scandal. (Photo by DAVID MCNEW / AFP) (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)
Actress Felicity Huffman is seen inside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles, on March 12, 2019. - Two Hollywood actresses including Oscar-nominated 'Desperate Housewives' star Felicity Huffman are among 50 people indicted in a nationwide university admissions scam, court records unsealed in Boston on March 12, 2019 showed. The accused, who also include chief executives, allegedly cheated to get their children into elite schools, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.Huffman, 56, and Lori Loughlin, 54, who starred in 'Full House,' are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. A federal judge set bond at $250,000 for Felicity Huffman after she was charged in a massive college admissions cheating scandal. (Photo by DAVID MCNEW / AFP) (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)
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Center pleaded guilty in Boston's federal court last year to participating in the bribery scheme, in which Hollywood stars and other prominent parents paid huge sums to get their kids into top universities, prosecutors say.

Center cried as he apologized to his family and friends and pleaded with the judge not to send him to prison.

“I just want you to know how sorry and ashamed I am that I have been a part of this,” he told the judge.

He walked out of the courthouse with his attorneys and was surrounded by reporters before breaking into a run, leaving the media and his attorneys behind.

Authorities say the admissions consultant at the center of the scam, Rick Singer, paid Center to help an applicant get admitted as a tennis recruit, even though the student didn't play the sport competitively.

In 2015, Singer gave Center $40,000 for the school's tennis program and later flew to Austin, where he gave the coach about $60,000 in cash for himself during a meeting in a hotel parking lot, prosecutors say.

Center was among 50 people arrested last year in the case dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, in which wealthy parents were accused of paying bribes to cheat on their children's entrance exams or get them admitted to selective schools as fake athletic recruits.

He is one of a handful of coaches and parents who have been cooperating with prosecutors in the hopes of escaping a lengthy prison sentence and could potentially testify against other defendants at trials.

He is the second coach to be sentenced for his role in the scam.

Former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer was sentenced last year to one day in prison, which he was deemed to have already served, after admitting to taking money for the school's sailing program in exchange for labeling prospective students as team recruits.

Lawyers for the more than a dozen parents still fighting the charges in the case — including “Full House” star Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli — will also be in court in Boston this week. A status hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

“Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman was released from a federal prison in October after serving 11 days for paying $15,000 to rig her daughter’s SAT score.

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