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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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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