Rigged Justice · Anna Sorokin · LaShae Kimbrough

Plus: Billy Jensen takes a questionable stand

One of the least repugnant figures in the college admissions scandal is making the rounds. John Vandemoer was the head sailing coach at Stanford University, where he admitted that he accepted hundreds of thousands in “donations” from Rick Singer with the expectation that he “consider” Singer’s clients for admission to the the prestigious school.

Unlike the other recipients of Singer’s largesse, Vandemoer didn’t pocket the dough: he put it all into the well-funded school’s sailing program. That decision likely saved his hide when Operation Varsity Blues took so many school figures and rich people down, as he ended up with a plea deal in which he was sentenced to time served, with a judge saying that “Vandemoer is probably the least culpable of all the defendants in all of these cases.”

That type of approbation is likely why Vandemoer was the only suspect in the scandal who appeared in Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues, which at my house is just called “the Matthew Modine one.” (Sarah liked that show, BTW.) He came off well in his talking heads, I thought, not too victim-y or whiny, and clearly that he knew he’d crossed a line.

He’s now turned his experiences into a book called Rigged Justice: How the College Admissions Scandal Ruined an Innocent Man’s Life. The book dropped last week, and I haven’t been able to score a copy yet — but looking at the title alone, I have to say that that vibe differs greatly from Vandemoer’s comments outside the courtroom the day of his sentencing. From NBC:

"I want to be seen as someone who takes responsibility for mistakes," he said. "I want to tell you how I intend to live from this point forward. I will never again lose sight of my values."

Outside court, Vandemoer said he regrets how he "brought a cloud" over Stanford.

"Mistakes are never felt by just yourself, this mistake impacted the people I love and admire in my life," he said.

"Stanford is a place that I love ... I have brought a cloud over Stanford, the amazing students, athletes, coaches and alumni. I have let you down and that devastates me. I have so much respect for all of you and never wanted to let you down, but I did. I will carry this with me for the rest of my life."

On Good Morning America last week (the video of his interview is at the top of this item), noting that none of the students that Singer recruited for Stanford even bothered to apply to the school, Vandemoer says, “My biggest mistake is perspective,” adding, “That I never took a time to step back and really think, ‘Well, why is Rick interacting with me? Why is he offering me something that seems too good to be true?’” — EB

Vandemoer isn’t the only true-crime figure hitting the newsmag interview scene in recent days. Anna Sorokin appeared on 20/20 last Friday to explain her well-publicized grift, telling ABC News senior national affairs correspondent Deborah Roberts, “I would like to show the world that I’m not this dumb, greedy person that they portrayed me to be.”

That sound you heard after Sorokin made those remarks were thousands of digital producers around the world high-fiving over the social media/head and dek options that quote provided. The episode, which is called “The Sinfluencer of Soho” (groan), is available to watch here for folks with certain cable providers; it’s on Hulu here.

Though we haven’t heard about it for a bit, it appears that the Shonda Rhimes-led Netflix show on Sorokin is moving forward, as 20/20 notes that “Sorokin sold the rights to her story to Netflix and Shonda Rimes, but because New York state law doesn't allow criminals to profit from their crimes, the money from the deal had to first be used to pay her victims back.”

According to a BBC report, Sorokin’s payment for that show could exceed $320K. An HBO adaptation of Sorokin victim Rachel DeLoache Williams’s Vanity Fair essay on Sorokin, which was set to be written by Lena Dunham, was not mentioned in the 20/20 segment.

As you might recall, Sorokin returned to jail following her February release from prison, as (per the BBC) ICE took her into custody on March 25 and deposited her at New Jersey’s Bergen County Jail. The AP reported in April that she was scheduled to be deported to Germany, but “is determined to stay in the U.S.” and as of publication time, she remains in the States. — EB

LaShae Kimbrough isn’t afraid of controversy. If you watched LuLaRich, you know Kimbrough: She’s the former LuLaRoe consultant who — controversially, to some — declined an invitation to the MLM’s consultant cruise because “I love white people to death, but being on a boat in the middle of nowhere…”

It’s a remark that has roiled a certain kind of of social media user, but delighted many others — and the resulting fame from remarks like that has been “a game changer,” she tells Slate in an interview on her sudden viral fame. But though she says that some people are trolling her social media, saying “Oh my gosh, you’re a racist. How dare you,” Kimbrough stands by her comments on the Amazon doc. Here’s a snip:

If I would’ve just said, “Oh, I didn’t want to go on the cruise.” People would’ve been like, well, why didn’t you want to, you know what I’m saying?

So to clear all that up and get straight to the point, that is why I said what I said. And it was just how it was. If you look on the pictures and you go back and if you follow me on my Facebook, scroll back to 2015. You’ll see all of my pictures are with white people and I didn’t have a problem with it.

It never was a problem, but I just didn’t want to be on a boat in the middle of nowhere with them. That’s just how I felt. It’s cool, we on land and when I’m ready to go, I can go. On a boat, if I’m uncomfortable, I don’t like something, I don’t have nobody there but these people that I came with.

Honestly, I’ve always felt like work functions aboard a boat were always not-so-secret attempts to control the workforce — no one can do a French leave when they arrive and depart from a dock. And it all feels that much more sinister when the company is a cult-like one like LuLaRoe, so it’s hard not to see where Kimbrough is coming from.

The whole interview with Kimbrough is a hoot, and there’s more where they came from: she also appeared on the Sept 15 episode of podcast Life After MLM, which rebranded as LuLaBitch around the time of the docuseries’ drop. From host Roberta Blevins:

As the "LuLaRoe Fairy Godmother" LaShae was witness to A LOT of shenanigans of the Bradham Clan, the good, bad and ugly. ALLEGEDLY. Shae spills A LOT of tea, and confirms a lot of rumors. We chat about the infamous sock monkey leggings, Home Office's "Zen Room", a hard drive LaShae kept everything she ever did on and Beyonce.

Billy Jensen says that podcasters can do more to solve crimes than detectives. Jensen, the author and podcaster who famously helped complete I’ll Be Gone in the Dark after author Michelle McNamara’s death, made that remark to the Guardian’s Amelia Tait, who writes that “ordinary people are trying to track down fugitives and reopen cold cases. But should they be?”

Jensen describes himself as a “citizen sleuth,” and says, “I wouldn’t make a good detective because I don’t follow rules incredibly well.” One is tempted to pause here to say that, sadly, many detectives also fail to follow the rules and instead brutalize and abuse their fellow humans, but police misconduct does not appear to be on Jensen’s mind. Instead, he says:

“We can do a lot more,” Jensen says when asked why he went into true crime instead of becoming a detective. (He pursued a job with the FBI after graduating, but had to drop his application after his father became sick.)

“While [police] have a lot more power in the sense that they can get a search warrant, as a writer and as a podcaster, I can do a lot more … If a suspect tells the police: ‘I don’t want to talk to you, I want my lawyer,’ they can’t talk to them any more. I could keep going until someone says: ‘You’re harassing me.’”

Uh, yay? Speaking of harassment, Tait also speaks with Dawn Cecil, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida and the author of Fear, Justice & Modern True Crime. She says that “There have been instances in the US in which the police have asked people to stop interfering as they had identified an innocent person as the suspect.” Snip:

In 2019, an Indiana sheriff’s office investigating the case of the two hiking girls rebuked the online sleuths (“Please STOP,” its Facebook status read. “You are ruining innocent people’s lives”).

There are a number of other ways in which unqualified sleuths can do more harm than good: using insensitive language when talking about victims, distressing families, or potentially prejudicing court cases. For his part, Jensen says if he “gets loud” about certain cases, it can put pressure on police departments.

“I think the more true-crime storytelling, the better,” Jensen says. “I think that there are so many unsolved murders and missing persons out there for a thousand podcasts. Let’s dig in deep, find those stories, and tell them, because right now, those stories are sitting in dusty evidence lockers … If we find those cases, then it is a force for good.”

Read the whole Guardian piece here, and let’s hear what you think. — EB

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