In what is being called the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted, wealthy parents, Hollywood actresses, coaches and college prep executives have been accused of carrying out a nationwide fraud to get students into prestigious universities, according to a federal indictment.
The scheme had two major pieces. In the first part, parents allegedly paid a college prep organization to take the test on behalf of students or to correct their answers. Second, the organization allegedly bribed college coaches to help admit the students into college as recruited athletes, regardless of their abilities, prosecutors said.
Federal court documents also allege that some defendants created fake athletic profiles for students to make them appear to be successful athletes.
In all, 50 people were charged in the criminal investigation that went by the name “Operation Varsity Blues.” Those arrested include two SAT/ACT administrators, one exam proctor, nine coaches at elite schools, one college administrator and 33 parents, according to Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for Massachusetts.
The parents, Lelling said, were a “catalog of wealth and privilege,” including actors, CEOs, a fashion designer and the co-chairman of a global law firm.
“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud,” Lelling said. “There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add that there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”
He added, “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.”
The fallout was swift Tuesday as several college coaches and one administrator were either fired or placed on administrative leave. At least one school launched an internal investigation.
Parents paid up to $6.5 million to get their kids into college
FBI Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta said the parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee admissions for their children.
Coaches from Yale, Stanford, the University of Southern California, Wake Forest and Georgetown, among others, are implicated in the case. The extensive case involved arrests in six states across the country.
The criminal accusations stretch from 2011 to 2019.
Actresses are allegedly on tape discussing scheme
Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are not just the most famous names in the case; their cases represent the two major aspects of the alleged scheme.
Huffman, an Academy Award nominee, has been charged with felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to court paperwork filed Monday in federal court in Massachusetts. She was arrested without incident at her home, the FBI said.
She appeared Tuesday in a federal court in Los Angeles and a judge set bond for her at $250,000. Under the terms of her bond, Huffman also surrendered her passport.
Her next court date has been set for March 29 in Boston.
Best known for her role on TV’s “Desperate Housewives,” Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 to William Rick Singer’s fake charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, to facilitate cheating for her daughter on the SATs, the complaint says.
A cooperating witness told authorities he traveled from Tampa to a West Hollywood test center to administer Huffman’s daughter’s exam. She received a 1420 on her test, which was 400 points higher than a PSAT taken a year earlier without the same administrator, the complaint states.
Huffman, who is married to “Shameless” star William H. Macy, also discussed the scheme in a recorded phone call with a cooperating witness, the complaint says.
Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on “Full House,” is facing the same felony charge – conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was also charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Giannulli and Loughlin allegedly agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters