In early 2013, Mikaela Sanford responded to a Craigslist job posting for a small Sacramento firm with mundane-sounding obligations: speaking with contractors, overseeing information entry and dealing with shopper correspondence.

Ms. Sanford labored for six years on the Key, the corporate run by William “Rick” Singer that offered commonplace faculty counseling and check prep—in addition to a aspect menu of illicit providers involving fraud and bribery. She pleaded responsible in 2020 to racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced in Might to 1 yr of supervised launch and a $67,062 forfeiture order.

Ms. Sanford, 36, testified final fall on the Boston trial of two mother and father who labored with Mr. Singer, however she hadn’t spoken publicly concerning the case till a current interview with The Wall Avenue Journal.

nside a couple of months of beginning her $60,000-a-year job on the Key, Ms. Sanford stated, Mr. Singer requested if she can be prepared to take an internet algebra class for a scholar. Ms. Sanford stated she warned that she in all probability wouldn’t get an A, however agreed and didn’t ask additional questions.

She wound up taking on-line lessons for a couple of dozen college students, she stated, incomes $700 or $1,250, relying on whether or not it was a highschool or faculty course. Ms. Sanford wasn’t the one worker taking lessons for college kids and stated she feared being fired if she declined continued requests.

Mr. Singer has pleaded responsible to 4 felonies and is scheduled to be sentenced in November. His lawyer declined to remark.

Ms. Sanford stated her boss was brusque and moody, vulnerable to yelling, and unfold skinny, with quite a lot of aspect tasks past faculty counseling for a rising roster of teenagers. In Ms. Sanford’s early years on the firm, Mr. Singer was juggling a summer time enrichment camp, a partnership with monetary advisers at

Oppenheimer and a self-published guide.

In her early years on the Key, Ms. Sanford stated she helped function level particular person for a few of these tasks, and every fall used spreadsheets to trace teenagers’ faculty selections and online-application login particulars. She enter their biographical info whereas Mr. Singer and others polished essays and pieced collectively extracurricular résumés.

She stated she grew pissed off with Mr. Singer’s typically sloppy edits and typos and observed purchasers anticipated extra hand-holding than he personally supplied; he referred to as teenagers “my man” and “my gal” as a result of he couldn’t bear in mind their names. She would go months with out seeing him in particular person.

William ‘Rick’ Singer was the mastermind of the college-admissions dishonest scheme. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in November.

Ms. Sanford quickly began cleansing up private statements; she would typically flag what she thought was an error, like a reference to a specific membership or sport, however stated Mr. Singer suggested her to not make adjustments.

She additionally fielded late-night calls from mother and father who demanded concierge-level service on duties unrelated to admissions, straddling the road between overinvolved helicopter mother and father and executives accustomed to outsourcing many duties.

“There have been some mother and father who actually gave me nightmares,” Ms. Sanford stated.

One father requested her to find his son’s subsequent class at a personal faculty in Southern California.

“I used to be like, ‘You’re in San Diego. I’m in Sacramento,’ ” she stated. “ ‘I can’t make it easier to with that. How am I supposed that can assist you? Your son can take a look at a map.’ ”

She additionally submitted purposes to varsities—a perk for busy mother and father and unmotivated or overwhelmed teenagers, and an important a part of Mr. Singer’s profitable fraud scheme.

With out teenagers seeing, Mr. Singer might swap in new essays or add athletic profiles to indicate they excelled in soccer or rowing. Mr. Singer admitted to bribing faculty coaches to flag purchasers as athletes, whether or not or not they have been, basically guaranteeing their admission to prime faculties.

In a letter to U.S. District Choose Indira Talwani earlier than her sentencing, Ms. Sanford stated she knew of a few of Mr. Singer’s “unprincipled practices,” however “had no thought of the lengths that my former boss went to safe faculty acceptances for his purchasers.”

Ms. Sanford tied her fortunes extra carefully to Mr. Singer in late 2016, when she defaulted on her scholar loans and wanted to make an $11,000 fee or face attainable authorized motion.

Mikaela Sanford leaving courtroom in September after testifying on the Boston trial of two mother and father.

Mr. Singer lent her the cash, to be deducted from her paycheck over about three years. If Ms. Sanford left, she stated, she would have wanted to pay again the rest instantly. She stated she didn’t just like the job anymore, however she thought she couldn’t give up.

In November 2018, Ms. Sanford discovered—and largely dismissed—a pink flag about Mr. Singer’s authorized hassle. Whereas searching for a shopper’s deal with, she noticed emails concerning the logistics of sporting a wire to report conversations and the way purchasers didn’t know precisely how the cash they despatched to coaches can be used.

“It made no sense to me,” she stated. “I learn via it, after which I simply closed it.”

A pal rightly guessed Mr. Singer was working as an informant. Federal brokers confronted Mr. Singer in September 2018, and he was cooperating with their persevering with investigation.

Ms. Sanford stated she as an alternative thought he was perhaps serving as an professional witness.

Mr. Singer dropped one other trace concerning the authorized matter in January 2019, when, throughout a gathering Ms. Sanford requested to debate a elevate, he stated the corporate’s operations have been going to alter dramatically.

Mr. Singer stated the federal government noticed donations to varsities as bribes, and extra particulars would come out in March.