College admissions scandal snags a founder of Bardstown’s Preservation Distillery

Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 — The nationwide college admissions scandal hit very close to the Bourbon Capital of the World this week when it was revealed that Marci Palatella, one of the founders of Preservation Distillery, was named in a federal indictment Tuesday.

Palatella and her husband, former San Francisco 49’ers football great Lou Palatella, founded the distillery in the former location known as Hillbilly Heaven near the Bluegrass Parkway interchange on US31E south of Bardstown on New Haven Road.


Palatella, 63, of Heraldsburg, Calif., was one of 33 parents indicted this week on charges that they paid millions of dollars in bribes to entrance exam proctors and college admissions personnel in order to get favorable placement of their children in elite schools. The indictment alleges Palatella of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

According to the indictment, Palatella allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a man, William “Rick” Singer, who helped her son cheat on a college entrance exam.

The indictment says that Singer is owner of the Edge College & Career Network, a for-profit college counseling and preparation firm.

Singer also ran the Key Worldwide Foundation, which prosecutors said was a charity that was used to accept payments from parents.

Palatella is accused of mailing an athletic director at the University of Southern California a $100,000 check so her son could get designated as a football recruit and in turn have a better shot at getting admitted to the school.

Palatella is also accused of wiring $75,000 to Singer’s foundation in March 2017 after Singer helped facilitate cheating on her son’s SAT exam by bribing test administrators.

In March 2016, Palatella also emailed Singer asking for advice on how to “position” her son for his college application, according to the indictment.

Singer provided Palatella a price list but added that the best way to guarantee her son’s admission would be to bribe a coach so her son could pose as a football recruit.

USC senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel presented Palatella’s son as a football recruit to a USC subcommittee for athletic admissions in November 2017.

Singer later received an conditional acceptance letter from Heinel that said Palatella’s son had the “potential to make a significant contribution to the intercollegiate athletic program as well as to the academic life of the university.”

Palatella mailed Heinel a $100,000 check, payable to the USC Women’s Athletic Board, with a note that said, “Our son … is beyond thrilled at the prospect of attending USC as a freshman this fall,” according to the indictment.

USC mailed Palatella’s son his formal acceptance letter in March 2018, and Palatella wired $400,000 to Singer’s foundation the next month, according to the indictment.

Palatella’s husband, Lou Palatella, is not charged in the case.


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