For people charged in the college admissions cheating scandal, Justin Paperny has plain-spoken advice: If you did it, admit it and take responsibility for your wrongdoings.
Paperny founded the company White Collar Advice, which advises people facing time in federal prisons for non-violent and financial crimes. His goal is to get clients the lowest possible sentence.
CNN has confirmed that Paperny has been hired by at least one parent associated with the college admissions cheating case. He says he’s speaking to multiple others as well.
“Their mood is one of shock and devastation,” Paperny said. “They never imagined in a million years they would end up as defendants in a criminal case.”
Fifty people were arrested in the investigation, with allegations they played a role in bribing college officials to have students recruited to schools as athletes, or for taking part in schemes to cheat on standardized college admissions tests.
The suspects include university coaches who allegedly took bribes, people accused of being paid to take standardized tests or students, and wealthy parents, ranging from actors to CEOs, who allegedly paid to get their children into elite schools.
The accused ringleader of the scheme, college consultant Rick Singer, pleaded guilty to four charges: racketeering conspiracy, money laundering, tax conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He is a government cooperating witness.
The college admissions cheating scandal hits close to home for Paperny, who played baseball at the University of Southern California – a school which has had five coaches charged in the case. More tdozen parents are accused of paying to get their children into the selective school.
“We were No. 1 in the country when I was at USC. It was done through hard work,” Paperny says. “(The allegations are) bothersome to me as a Trojan and a student athlete knowing how hard I worked. It would not have been accepted.”
From felon to consultant
Though he is now married with kids and running his own business, a decade ago Paperny’s life was drastically different.
At UBS Wealth Management, Paperny says he looked the other way when he learned a client was lying to his investors about his reported returns. The hedge fund chief was jailed and UBS said at the time it reimbursed clients for their losses.
Paperny pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiracy to commit mail, wire and securities fraud. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, which is where he developed the basis for a program he now uses with clients.
“While I was in prison, I documented my goals and shared them with the world,” Paperny said. “I began interviewing other men who, like me, were totally unprepared for prison.”
His firm has worked with over 1,000 clients since he started the business in 2009, Paperny said.
What does White Collar Advice do? The company has prepared clients for what life will be like in prison, managed their businesses while they’re incarcerated and even helped them write books. Everyone on his team is a convicted felon who served time in federal prison.
Clients can pay for a range of services, from $9 books and videos that explain the judicial process and the practicalities of prison life to one-on-one consulting up to $30,000, depending on the complexity and length of the case and prison time.
Paperny said he helps his clients with psychology as much as with strategy.
“This isn’t easy here — we’re rebuilding our lives in the age of social media and the internet it’s very hard to run from decision we made,” he said.
‘To not make matters worse’
Paperny tells clients their cases can spiral out of control if they lie to their attorneys or the government. They could get hit with other charges, he said. That’s why his clients often need to admit guilt, take a plea agreement and work with the government, he said.
“Our goal is to not make matters worse,” Paperny says.
Scott Michel, a defense attorney who specializes in tax cases, says it’s possible suspects in the college admissions cheating case could face more charges and harsher sentences if they go to trial.
“If (prosecutors) wanted to come up with more draconian charges here, it appears there would be an evidentiary basis from the four corners of the complaint,” Michel says.
Michel says there could be evidence already presented to the public for additional charges, including money laundering and tax evasion.
And more people could be investigated, said Meghan Biss, a former senior adviser at the IRS.
Dozens of parents who allegedly paid Singer by donating money to his non-profit organization have been named in the case. But anyone who gave money to his foundation could come under scrutiny, she said.
“The IRS does have a list of donors to the charity that none of us have,” Biss said, referring to a confidential part of Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation’s tax filings.
Paperny said his biggest challenge is getting clients to face the harsh reality of their dilemma.
“They’ve got to begin to make better choices. I help them do that. Some will do it, some will not. Some will remain defiant and spend every penny they have on lawyers,” Paperny says.
“I can’t take your money if you’re not going to listen.”
This story has been updated to remove information that CNN has not independently verified.