Former University of Southern California senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel was sentenced to six months in prison Friday for using her position to facilitate students’ admission as purported athletic recruits in exchange for money.
In addition, Heinel, 61, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani to two years of supervised release. Heinel was also ordered to forfeit $160,000. In November 2021, Heinel pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud, according to a U.S. Department of Justice release, in the case that came to be known as "Varsity Blues."
As senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator, Heinel was one of the highest-ranking members of the USC athletics department and served as the liaison between athletic coaches and the USC admissions department.
According to the DOJ, beginning in early 2014, Heinel solicited and received bribe payments from William “Rick” Singer and his clients to facilitate their children’s admission to USC as athletic recruits. For approximately four years, Heinel misled USC’s athletic admissions subcommittee by presenting the students as recruits to USC’s athletic teams when, in reality, the coaches had not recruited them and some did not even play the sport they were purportedly being recruited to play. In total, the subcommittee on athletic admissions approved the admission of approximately two dozen applicants Heinel presented as purported recruits.
In some cases, Heinel falsified students’ athletic credentials when presenting them to the athletic admissions subcommittee. In exchange, Heinel received more than $1 million in payments from Singer and his clients to university accounts she oversaw. In addition, Heinel received $160,000 in payments for her own personal benefit.
Singer previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced last Wednesday by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel to 42 months in prison.