BOSTON — A tennis coach with a country club membership and a second home on Cape Cod. An assistant teacher at a Houston public high school. A college administrator whose reputation as a stickler for the rules belied what prosecutors say was a penchant for secretly taking bribes to facilitate students’ admission.
All together, a dozen people, including six coaches, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Boston on Monday in the college admissions scandal that has ensnared Hollywood celebrities and forced a reckoning at elite colleges where prosecutors say students were admitted on the basis of falsified test scores and athletic credentials.
Those who appeared in court showcased the wide range of people who prosecutors believe were caught up in the scheme. The man who connected them all was William Singer, a college admissions consultant known as Rick who has pleaded guilty to helping the children of clients cheat on college admissions exams and to facilitating bribes.
So far, the prosecutors have revealed little beyond what is in the charging documents, leaving several mysteries. The United States attorney’s office has said that the investigation is continuing, leading to speculation that more parents or coaches could be charged.
At a news conference on March 12, Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said that one client of Mr. Singer’s had paid $ 6.5 million to facilitate their child’s admission to college — many times more than what any of the other parents have been accused of paying. This payment is not mentioned in any of the documents, and the person who paid this sum has not been revealed. A spokeswoman for the attorney’s office would not identify the family or the school, but said it was paid to get a child into college through the athletic recruiting scheme.
Also on Monday, the federal Department of Education sent letters to the eight colleges where coaches are alleged to have taken bribes, saying that it was opening an investigation of its own, according to a department official with knowledge of the investigation.
The letter said that the investigation, first reported by Politico, would examine, among other things, whether the colleges violated any laws or regulations governing federal financial aid programs. It asked the colleges for information about their admissions policies, as well as the names, Social Security numbers and academic transcripts of students who were allegedly admitted as part of the scheme.
Those who appeared in court in Boston on Monday, all of whom have been indicted on one count of racketeering conspiracy, are each accused of participating in one or both aspects of the scam.
At one end of the spectrum of those charged was Gordon Ernst, the former head tennis coach at Georgetown University, who has been accused of taking $ 2.7 million in bribes from Mr. Singer to designate at least 12 applicants as recruits to the tennis team. Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of Mr. Ernst’s country club membership and a second home on Cape Cod, among other assets. Mr. Ernst appeared in court on Monday flanked by two prominent defense lawyers.
At the other end was Lisa Williams, an assistant teacher at a Houston high school known as Niki who prosecutors say took bribes — the indictment cites one in the amount of $ 5,000 — in exchange for allowing cheating on the college entrance exams. The judge noted that Ms. Williams, who entered her plea in a voice barely above a whisper, had qualified for a court-appointed lawyer.
In a sign of the wide interest the case has generated, television cameras and photographers crowded the sidewalk outside the courthouse an hour before the hearing. Access to the courtroom was limited, with some journalists confined to a spillover room. Inside the courtroom, the defendants, their lawyers and family members, and a few members of the public, filled the benches on the left and in the center, while the benches on the right were packed with reporters.
Most of the defendants appeared in suits, but one charged in connection with test cheating, Igor Dvorskiy, the director of a private school in Los Angeles, was dressed informally, in a gray sweater.
Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley conducted the hearing with the efficiency of an assembly line. She brought the defendants up three at a time to be arraigned. Mr. Ernst came first, and in addressing him about his rights and the consequences of violating the conditions of his release, Judge Kelley instructed the others to listen carefully so that she did not have to repeat herself.
All of the defendants are out on bail, of varying amounts. Those who also appeared on Monday were Donna Heinel, the former senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California; Laura Janke and Ali Khosroshahin, former University of Southern California soccer coaches; William Ferguson, the former women’s volleyball coach at Wake Forest University; Jorge Salcedo, the former head coach of men’s soccer at the University of California at Los Angeles; and Jovan Vavic, the former U.S.C. water polo coach.
Others included Steven Masera, the accountant and chief financial officer of Mr. Singer’s company and a related nonprofit through which prosecutors say he funneled the bribes; Mikaela Sanford, an employee of Mr. Singer’s who is accused of taking online classes in place of some students so that they could submit the grades she earned as part of their college applications; and Martin Fox, the president of a private tennis academy in Houston, whom prosecutors say Mr. Singer paid for helping to arrange some of the bribes.
Mr. Ferguson is accused of taking a bribe of $ 100,000 in exchange for designating the daughter of one of Mr. Singer’s clients, who had previously applied to Wake Forest and had been wait-listed, as a recruit for the volleyball team.
His lawyer, Shaun Clarke, said outside the courthouse that his client was not guilty and would fight the charges.
“No one — no one — was admitted to Wake Forest who didn’t earn it, as a student and as an athlete,” Mr. Clarke said. “Bill Ferguson does not belong in this indictment.”
More hearings, with other defendants in the case, are scheduled for later this week. In an indication of how high a priority the case is for the office, Mr. Lelling, the United States attorney, attended part of the hearing on Monday.