New Book on College Admissions Scandal Goes Inside Fake Water Polo Photo Shoot

Unacceptable, by Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz, includes an exclusive interview with Matteo Sloane, one of the students impacted by the scandal 

Devin Sloane
Photo: Elise Amendola/AP/Shutterstock

Matteo Sloane seldom questioned his father.

Three years ago, when Devin Sloane asked his son to pose for photos in the family pool wearing full water polo gear, giving only a vague reason why, Matteo obliged — even though he didn't play the sport.

Sloane purchased a bunch of sports equipment for his son on Amazon including a ball, a Speedo swimsuit, a padded swim cap and a vinyl Italian flag decal for the cap. Matteo was annoyed, but agreed to be photographed.

That photoshoot would later help implicate Sloane, a wealthy Bel Air water-sector entrepreneur, in a nationwide college admissions cheating scam. The reasons for the photoshoot would soon become clear to Matteo, who was falsely presented as a water polo recruit in order to gain admission to the University of Southern California.

Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal, a new book by Wall Street Journal reporters Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz, includes an exclusive interview with Matteo and new details from the shocking case.

Unacceptable book cover
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

In Unacceptable, readers are introduced to Matteo as the oldest of the four Sloane kids. He is described as a friendly, hardworking teen at The Buckley School, a private school in Los Angeles, where he played soccer and took Advanced Placement classes.

Matteo dreamed of studying environmental science at one of several universities including UC Santa Cruz, Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University and Georgetown University.

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“I didn’t want to go to the school with the [most prestigious] acceptance rate,” he later told Korn and Levitz. “I didn’t care about that at all. I just wanted to go to a good school where I fit in and would have a good balance between social life and academics and kind of develop into my own person.”

Rick Singer, a private college admissions counselor hired by Matteo’s parents — who would later be identified as the ringleader of the scandal — pushed Matteo to consider USC, the teen said. Singer stressed that it was a good school nearby, drawing on his mother’s worry about Matteo being far from home. Matteo suggested a number of schools on the West Coast, he said, but Singer was focused on USC, where he could use his connections to get Matteo admitted.

With the help of the doctored photos, Matteo was pitched to USC as a water polo player who competed for the Italian junior national team and the L.A. Water Polo Club. Prosecutors said Sloane paid $200,000 to Singer's fraudulent nonprofit organization, the Key Worldwide Foundation, as well as $50,000 to USC to help his son's case.

Matteo got in and went to USC. He was home on spring break during his first year when FBI agents showed up at his family’s house to take his father to jail. Later that night, when Sloane returned home after posting bail, Matteo, who by then had heard about the allegations, confronted him.

“Why didn’t you believe in me?” Matteo asked, according to the book. “Why didn’t you trust me?”

According to USC’s student directory, Matteo is still enrolled at the university.

In September Sloane was sentenced to four months in prison and two years of supervised release for his part in the scandal. U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani also ordered Sloane, who pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, to complete 500 hours of community service over a two-year period and pay a fine of $95,000.

“There are no words to justify my behavior nor will I offer any excuses or justification,” Sloane said at his sentencing, reports the Associated Press. “The crime I committed is unacceptable. In my heart and my soul I want what’s best for my son. I realize now my actions were the antithesis of that.”

Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal, by Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz, went on sale Tuesday.

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