ROSEVILLE, Calif. — Kim Perry said she nearly steered off the road when she heard the college admissions scandal on the radio, Tuesday morning, as she drove to work in Sacramento.
"It was shocking," Kim, who now lives in Roseville, told ABC10. "The Rick I knew when I was a teenager was such a straight and narrow kind of guy and so trustworthy, and the kind of guy who would be like your sports coach."
Kim said she was one of the very first clients of Rick Singer -- the Sacramento man behind the biggest college admissions scandal ever prosecuted -- when she was a student at Saint Francis Catholic High School in the early '90s. She said his company at the time was named "Future Stars" and that he quickly became the most sought after college prep tutor among the Sacramento elite.
"His whole thing was creating your personal brand," Kim recalled. "And so really packaging that and then submitting it. But there was not, 'OK if we got in then he got paid.' There was just a one and done fee."
Her experience was positive, which is why two years ago she and her husband, Chris, considered hiring Singer to coach their daughter, Avery, now senior at Granite Bay High who was considering playing volleyball in college. The Perrys met Singer for coffee during one of his client visits to Sacramento.
"I was impressed," Chris Perry said. "He knew everybody. He had the volleyball coaches numbers on his phone...he was offering to have her go visit to tour the campus. I could tell he was a connected guy...especially at USC and that's where my daughter wanted to go at the time."
In fact, they said while at coffee, Singer texted the USC volleyball coach about his daughter.
"He was definitely a wheeler and dealer," Chris said.
Ultimately, the Perrys decided not to hire Singer, in part because of his outrageously high fees. But they said his prep programs don't all seem nefarious and that Singer seemed like an honest person.
"That's the one thing that struck me about Rick," Kim said, "He's someone of integrity."
Kim is not the only person who knew Singer, decades ago, who described him that way. John Meckfessel knew Singer in the late 1980s when he said Singer coached varsity basketball at Encino High.
Meckfessel remembers Singer as being "really intense" but also someone with "high-character" who cared about his students' success.
"Coach Singer doesn't strike you as the guy who is rubbing elbows with millionaires," he said. "He's an average, normal guy. Just happened to love hoops more than most."
Kim says she doesn't know what Singer's intentions were, but said she's saddened by the course he's taken
"I think it was a slow build in the wrong direction," Kim said.
"My guess too," Chris added. "Someone offered him a million bucks to get [their] kid into school and he said I can do it this way, and then next you think you know it's a dumpster fire."
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"I understand what they were trying to do. It's not right, especially for us. The majority that don't have that kind of wealth to put their kids into that situation."