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Rick Westhead

TSN Senior Correspondent

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Former Canadian Football League player David Sidoo, who in retirement has become a prominent Vancouver businessman and philanthropist, has been accused by the U.S. Justice Department of conspiring to cheat entrance exams to American colleges.

Sidoo, the president and CEO of Advantage Lithium, a Vancouver private investment banking firm, has been charged in a criminal investigation with nearly 50 other people, including coaches, a college administrator, and Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. The investigation was known as ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ by U.S. Department of Justice officials.

Sidoo was charged on March 5, according to a copy of the indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts and unsealed on Tuesday.

The indictment says Sidoo has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with U.S. college entrance exams purportedly taken by his two sons. The allegations against Sidoo have not been proven. He did not respond to a voice mail left at his office on Tuesday morning.

“David Sidoo has been repeatedly recognized for his philanthropic endeavours, which is the true testament to his character,” Sidoo’s lawyer, Richard A. Schonfeld, wrote in a statement to TSN. “The charge that has been lodged against David is an allegation that carries with it the presumption that he is innocent. We look forward to presenting our case in court, and ask that people don’t rush to judgment in the meantime.”

The indictment alleges that Sidoo, in the fall of 2011, agreed to pay someone $100,000 (U.S.) to fly from Tampa to Vancouver to secretly take a U.S. university entrance exam for his older son. The identity of the person who took the exam is redacted.

“In or about September 2011, Sidoo emailed [name redacted] copies of his older son’s driver’s license and student identification card for the purpose of creating a falsified identification card,” according to the indictment.

On or about Dec. 3, 2011, the person posed as Sidoo’s older son and took the U.S. SAT college entrance exam.

According to the indictment, the person was instructed, “not to obtain too high a score, because Sidoo’s older son had previously taken the exam himself and obtained a score of 1,460 out of a possible 2,400.”

The person earned a total score of 1,670.

On or about Jan. 24, 2012, Sidoo’s older son was accepted to Chapman University, a private university in California, the indictment says.

Months later, on June 9, 2012, an unidentified person flew from Tampa to Vancouver and “took the Canadian high school graduation exam” in Sidoo’s older son’s place, the indictment alleges.

In the fall of 2012, Sidoo allegedly agreed to pay $100,000 to have someone take the SAT entrance exam in place of his younger son.

After receiving the younger son’s identification papers, a person flew from Tampa to Los Angeles and took the SAT exam on Dec. 1 on his behalf at a high school in Orange County, Calif., the indictment alleges, earning a score of 2,280 out of a possible 2,400.

On Jan. 21, 2013, Sidoo allegedly emailed an unidentified person asking for instructions to send a wire transfer.

“On or about Jan. 23, 2013, Sidoo wired $100,000 to the account, as agreed, for having [name redacted] take the SAT for Sidoo’s younger son,” the indictment says.

That SAT score was used in 2013 and 2014 as part of Sidoo’s younger son’s applications to schools including Yale University, Georgetown University, and the University of California - Berkeley. 

In March 2014, Sidoo’s younger son was accepted to the University of California - Berkeley and later enrolled at that school.

The indictment also alleges that on or about Oct. 25, 2018, an unidentified person called Sidoo from Boston.

“In that call, Sidoo noted that his older son was applying to business school, adding ‘I thought you were gonna call me and say I got a 2,100 on my GMAT’ – a reference to a standardized test that is widely used as part of the business school admissions process, which is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. [Name redacted] responded, ‘They don’t have a 2,100 for the GMAT. But I would do my best to get it for ya.’ Sidoo replied, ‘I know.’”

A defensive back at the University of British Columbia, Sidoo helped lead the Thunderbirds to an undefeated season and UBC’s first Vanier Cup national championship in 1982.  He later played six seasons in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and BC Lions before moving into the investment banking industry with Yorkton Securities.

In a February 2017 profile story in B.C. Business magazine, Sidoo was credited with helping to save the UBC football program, and helping to form the 13th Man Foundation, a group of UBC football alumni who helped to raise money for the school’s football program. The Sidoo Field at Thunderbird Stadium is named in his honour.

Kurt Heinrich, senior director of UBC’s media relations department, wrote in a statement that the school is aware of the allegations against Sidoo.

“It would be inappropriate for the university to comment any further as the case is before the courts,” Heinrich wrote. “The university will continue to monitor the situation.”

Sidoo was a 2016 recipient of the Order of British Columbia, the Province’s highest form of recognition. He has also been honoured by the Government of Canada with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.