William "Rick" Singer, who has admitted to running the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, is accused of crimes dating to 2011.
Authorities say that during that time, he gamed the system for hundreds of wealthy and powerful families to get their kids into some of the nation's top colleges. But his questionable activities began much earlier, according to an educational consultant who competed with him for years in Sacramento, California.
Margie Amott said her experience — and the still unfolding scandal — offer lessons for the millions of Americans every year seeking a legitimate edge in the college application process.
"It certainly is a wake-up call, Amott told CNBC's "American Greed." "No one envisioned that someone like Rick could get away with what he's done for so long."
Singer, 59, pleaded guilty on March 12 to four felony counts including racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and he faces up to 20 years in prison. He has been cooperating with authorities since last fall in their investigation of college admission practices dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues." He is among 51 people charged—including 34 parents who hired him to bribe their kids' way into elite colleges.
Amott — and, until recently, Singer — are among an estimated 13,500 educational consultants across the country, according the Independent Educational Consultants Association. But because the industry is largely unregulated, the experience and qualifications of those individuals varies greatly.