Former University of Texas men's tennis coach Michael Center is in a Texas halfway house and set to be released in October after serving six months in federal prison for falsely designating a wealthy West Coast student as a Longhorns recruit.
He was among dozens of bribery deals cut between officials at prestigious universities around the country and the rich and famous who wanted their children to attend them—all revealed in a stunning nationwide college admissions scandal in 2019 that netted coaches and movie stars alike.
Center, 56, began his sentence in April in a South Texas prison facility, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He is set to be released on Oct. 4 but may be eligible for monitored confinement in his Austin-area home up to 18 days before that, according to the bureau.
The bureau website shows that Center is now in the custody of the Residential Reentry Management center in San Antonio, which oversees several facilities in Texas. It was unclear from online information where in Texas his current facility is located and whether he would be going home early. Calls to the bureau by Austonia were not returned.
RRMs offer employment counseling, job placement services, financial management assistance, other services and some freedoms, according to the bureau.
It is not clear when Center left the Federal Corrections Facility Three Rivers, a medium-to minimum-security men's facility, where he served a portion of his sentence.
Multiple attempts by Austonia to reach Center through family members were unsuccessful.
The nationwide college admissions scandal involved more than 50 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, along with coaches from universities such as Yale, Georgetown, several California schools and UT-El Paso.
Center admitted to accepting $100,000 in 2015 in exchange for helping the son of a Silicon Valley venture capitalist gain admission to UT-Austin as a recruit for the Texas Longhorns tennis team, which he was not.
He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and was ordered to serve a year's probation and pay back $60,000 he had pocketed in the deal. The other $40,000 went to the tennis team.
In February, Center was visibly upset at the sentencing, which his attorney called "harsh," and which started right as the nation was in the early stages of the pandemic shutdowns.
By comparison, a Stanford sailing coach was sentenced to one day in prison and six months house arrest, along with probation and a fine.
Huffman was released after two weeks and Loughlin, who told reporters she was "terrified" of going to prison during the pandemic, will start a two-month prison sentence in November. Both were also fined and given community service hours for their role in schemes to bribe college officials to get their kids into certain schools.
Center was a celebrated and popular coach who spent 18 seasons at UT-Austin and was awarded the 2007 U.S. Professional Tennis Association's National College Coach of the Year. Each season under his leadership, Longhorns made appearances in the NCAA Championship, including three trips to the Final Four. Then in 2019, his team won the national championship.
The Longhorns achieved their highest final national ranking (No. 3) in 2006 under Center.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.