A footnote on the federal complaint said an employee at a private college preparatory school in Bradenton is cooperating with investigators.

SARASOTA — Mark Riddell was a straight-A student headed to Harvard University in 1999. Considered one of the best high school tennis players in Florida, sports made people recognize the Sarasota High graduate.

While playing junior tennis, the scholarly athlete that used to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy, now IMG Academy, was nationally ranked.

Riddell chose pre-med at Harvard because he wanted to become a doctor, but by his senior year he was uncertain what profession he would go into. He knew he wanted to try professional tennis.

He always had school on his mind, but enjoyed homecomings with his parents, Jeff Riddell, a prominent Sarasota attorney, and Julie Riddell, who used to drive him to practice at 7 a.m. every morning.

For him, life at the Ivy League school was a competition on the court and in the classroom.

In 2004, Riddell told the Herald-Tribune, "I honestly skip practice frequently so I can study.

"There's a lot of students who are studying 24-7," Riddell told the Herald-Tribune during a trip home his senior year of college. "Tennis takes us on the road quite a bit, and that is a little bit difficult. That's why it's not unusual to see a van full of players heading back to campus after a match with books open and flashlights beaming."

His schedule required self-discipline and organization that his mother said he was able to do independently. The summer before his senior year in high school, Riddell played tournaments in the Caribbean and in Europe, for which he made all the travel arrangements. He took time out of his schedule to absorb culture, see museums and walk the canals of Italy.

Fifteen years later, now 36 and living in Palmetto, Riddell's arrest in the nationwide college bribery scandal has shocked his hometown because of his alleged role in helping the children of wealthy parents break the No. 1 rule of school — no cheating.

It's not known what led a once model student who grew up in Sarasota to allegedly rig standardized tests and dupe college admissions officials.

Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody, a doubles partner with Riddell at Sarasota High, said his former teammate is a dedicated husband and father, and has always been a solid friend.

"If he made a mistake I'm sure he'll own up to it — that’s the type of guy he is," Brody said. "He's got a lot of heart and we're all hoping he lands on his feet, but out of respect for the proceeding and his family’s privacy I decline to comment any further."

Neither Riddell nor his family returned phone calls or emails from the Herald-Tribune seeking comment.

However, Riddell's attorney, Ben Stechschulte, released the following statement attributed to Riddell:

"I want to communicate to everyone that I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions. I understand how my actions contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process," the statement reads. "I assume full responsibility for what I have done. I do, however, want to clarify an assertion that has arisen in the media coverage. I absolutely, unequivocally never bribed anyone, nor has the Information filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office charged me with any form of bribery.

"I will always regret the choices I made, but I also believe that the more than one thousand students I legitimately counseled, inspired, and helped reach their goals in my career will paint a more complete picture of the person I truly am. I will not be making any further public comments on the matter."

Riddell's current employer, IMG Academy, released a statement Tuesday night that said Riddell was suspended after his indictment became public.

"Today we were made aware of the charges against Mark Riddell," IMG Academy said. "Riddell has been suspended indefinitely as we investigate this matter."

The Herald-Tribune asked the academy for further information about Riddell's specific duties at the school, his salary and whether any IMG Academy students were involved in the alleged bribery case.

Wednesday evening the academy sent out a second statement: "With the current information at hand, we have no reason to believe this alleged misconduct extends beyond Mr. Riddell, nor do we believe that these actions have any direct relation to Academy students, parents, or staff."

Test prep expert

Riddell brought his college experience to Bradenton's IMG Academy in 2006, where he was an alumnus, to help students prepare for college admission tests. His knowledge of tests and his tutoring prowess were cited on IMG Academy's website, before his bio was deleted by the school this week.

Hired as the director of College Exam Preparation, Riddell assisted thousands of students in gaining admission to elite universities. He built the curriculum for test preparation at the academy, where tuition is $77,650 for boarders and $61,650 for day students.

Sometime from 2011 to February 2019, federal prosecutors say he met William "Rick" Singer, a California businessman who owned the Edge College & Career Network LLC and served as chief executive officer at Key Worldwide Foundation. The two allegedly conspired to bribe test administrators and college coaches to help children gain college admission, according to court documents.

The U.S. Attorney's Office indicated Singer was the mastermind behind the scandal, and that he hired Riddell as a ringer to take ACT and SAT tests. Riddell allegedly flew around the country to take tests in place of children or to correct their scores.

As part of the multi-million dollar scheme, prosecutors alleged that Singer facilitated bribes at elite universities who accepted fraudulent athletic credentials. Those schools included Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of Texas, Wake Forest and Yale — collectively some of the most selective public and private colleges in the country.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Singer concealed the nature and sources of the payments by funneling money through his for-profit charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, and that admissions officials designated some of the applicants as recruits for college sports teams, without regard for their athletic abilities, in exchange for bribes. 

Parents, celebrities and business owners paid from $15,000 to $75,000 per test, court records showed. Riddell's fee was $10,000 per test — payments drawn on The Key charitable accounts, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Cooperating witness

Riddell was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. A forfeiture allegation and money laundering allegation were included in the filing. If convicted, Riddell could be ordered to pay nearly $500,000.

Riddell, may be seeking leniency in sentencing, according to a footnote contained in Singer's federal complaint.

The footnote does not directly name Riddell, but describes "Cooperating Witness 2" as a participant in the bribery scheme who is employed at a private college preparatory school in Bradenton. It states that "CW-2" has agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in exchange for leniency.

The U.S. Attorney's Office would not confirm CW-2 is Riddell, but the footnote says information provided by the witness has been corroborated. His next hearing date is set for April 12.