Chinese Woman Arrested in Spain in Connection with University-Admissions Cheating Scandal

On September 17, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that on the night of September 16, Spanish authorities arrested a Chinese woman “in connection with her role in using bribery and other forms of fraud to facilitate her son’s admission to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) as a purported soccer recruit.”  This arrest is part of the investigation, led by the United States Attorney’s Office in Boston, into an alleged “nationwide conspiracy that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and the admission of students to elite universities as purported athletic recruits.”

In an indictment unsealed on September 17 in the District of Massachusetts, Xiaoning Sui, a resident of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.  The Department stated that Sui “is currently detained in Spain, and authorities will seek her extradition to Boston to face charges.”

The indictment alleges that Sui agreed with William “Rick” Singer, who has already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation,

to pay $400,000 to facilitate her son’s admission to UCLA as a purported soccer recruit. It is alleged that during a phone call in August 2018, Singer explained that Sui’s son could be “guaranteed” admission to UCLA, in exchange for $400,000. Between August and October 2018, Sui allegedly provided Singer with her son’s transcript and photographs of her son playing tennis.

A co-conspirator, Laura Janke, who has also pleaded guilty and is cooperating in the investigation,

then fabricated a soccer profile for Sui’s son, which described him as a top player for two private soccer clubs in Canada. On Oct. 24, 2018, Singer instructed Sui to wire Singer $100,000 which would be “paid to the coach at UCLA” in exchange for a letter of intent from the UCLA soccer coach. Two days later, Sui allegedly wired $100,000 to a bank account in Massachusetts in the name of Singer’s sham charitable organization, the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF).

Thereafter, on November 5, 2018, UCLA admitted Sui’s son as a recruited soccer player, and awarded him a 25 percent scholarship.  Sui also allegedly wired an additional $300,000 to the KWF account In February 2018, “as final payment for her son’s fraudulent admission to UCLA.”

Note: This indictment is noteworthy for two reasons.  First, the Justice Department release stated that Sui is the 52nd defendant charged in this investigation.  That number alone provides some indication of the scope and scale of the alleged cheating scandal.  Second, the fact that the Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office was willing to take the trouble to seek Sui’s arrest in and extradition from Spain indicates that that office is prepared to pursue the investigation for an extended period, as any extradition can take months, at a minimum, if the defendant opposes extradition through the requested country’s legal system.

In March 2019, former UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo was indicted and pleaded not guilty in connection with the investigation.  While a UCLA Daily Bruin article characterized Salcedo’s departure as “a blessing in disguise” because of the soccer team’s poor record during his tenure, this latest arrest and charge adds to the weight of reputational harm that UCLA must bear.

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