Newsletter: The particular schadenfreude of sentencing in the college admissions scam

A poster containing a photo of college admissions scam mastermind William "Rick" Singer is displayed during a news conference.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Oct. 24, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

It was an unseasonably warm afternoon in Los Angeles when news broke of the latest sentencing in the college admissions scandal.

One can only imagine that it would have been near impossible to navigate a very specific and moneyed subset of the city — to, say, run errands at the Brentwood Country Mart or retrieve one’s Tesla from the valet pickup line at CAA — without hearing snippets of speculation and schadenfreude.

Yes, like Felicity Huffman before her, Jane Buckingham would be going to prison. The Beverly Hills marketing maven — who sold her first trend research company to CAA while still in her 30s — had built a career first as an arbiter of all that was cool with the youth and, later, as a more all-purpose guru to the good life. This was a woman who had been called “the Martha Stewart of the younger generation” and written books called “The Modern Girls Guide to Life,” “The Modern Girls Guide to Motherhood” and, impossibly, “The Modern Girl’s Guide to Sticky Situations.”


Back in 2010, Huffman was among the well-heeled guests at the Soho House West Hollywood when the release of the latter book was fêted there. (What “felt like the entire population of Brentwood” was also in attendance that night, yanked east across the wilds of Doheny to dodge plates of custom Sprinkles mini-cupcakes amid a smattering of boldface names.)

On Wednesday, Buckingham became the 11th parent to be sentenced in conjunction with the college admissions scandal. She will serve three weeks in prison.

We are now a little more than seven months out from the initial “Operation Varsity Blues” explosion, when federal prosecutors blew the lid off an audacious college admissions fraud scheme aimed at getting the children of the rich and powerful into elite universities.

[See our full college admissions scandal coverage in the Los Angeles Times]

The whole thing was, as Willa Paskin wrote at Slate, a large-scale grift that offered “a window into the ethical and moral rot of our supposedly meritocratic college-admissions system and a class-riven America where even extremely rich and privileged parents are in a panic for their children’s future.”

But, Paskin continued, “it is also, and I hope you will excuse me for saying, like, so much stupid fun.” The internet was collectively, insatiably riveted as the revelations rushed forth.


An entire Lifetime original movie has already been written, shot and released since the story broke in March, which is less time than it usually takes to thrice reschedule a Hollywood lunch. People delighted in the endless schadenfreude of it all (even if we felt a little icky about the kids whose names had been tarnished without their knowledge or consent).

The criminal sentencings have brought a fresh set of continuous headlines in recent months. Buckingham is among 19 parents who have pleaded guilty; 15 parents have contested the government’s case, and prosecutors are attempting to extradite a 35th parent from Spain.

But perhaps the most surprising thing has been the fact that so many parents have, so far, been sentenced to actual time. Sure, three weeks is not long in the scheme of things, or even in comparison to the time people from lesser means have too often served for far lesser crimes. But it’s not nothing.

“I know this is craziness, I know it is,” Buckingham allegedly said in a call to William “Rick” Singer, the scam’s mastermind. “And then I need you to get him into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.” And why not?

The people on the other end of Singer’s calls were CEOs, movie stars and machers of the sort who have long bent the world to their will, and then some.

And in a time where the Teflon power elite seem to play by their own rules and the facade of a meritocracy is maybe the greatest grift of all, actual consequences remain shocking.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


A rapidly spreading wildfire driven by strong winds exploded in Sonoma County late Wednesday, prompting evacuation orders. The Kincade fire is an estimated 5,000 acres and has no containment, according to state and local officials. It is being driven by strong north winds and is moving south.

Large swaths of California will once again be without power amid heightened concerns that hot weather and strong winds could lead to wildfires. Southern California Edison said more than 308,000 customers in seven counties — Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, Kern and Santa Barbara — could face blackouts. It is not clear when power to those areas might be shut off. PG&E began shutting off power to customers in Northern California on Wednesday afternoon. Those outages could affect about 179,000 customers. Los Angeles Times

A new report says that the 2018 Woolsey fire should serve as a warning: Emergency management officials were unprepared for massive evacuations before the most destructive fire in Los Angeles County history, causing chaos and calls for mutual aid that were not provided in the first critical hours of the Woolsey fire, according to a detailed accounting released Wednesday. Los Angeles Times

During testimony to the House Financial Services Committee committee, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg struggled to convince Congress of the merits of the company’s plans for a cryptocurrency in light of all the other challenges the company has failed to solve. Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said Facebook should stop work on its cryptocurrency project until the company addresses a series of unrelated “deficiencies” in its social-media business. Los Angeles Times


L.A. City Councilman John Lee called for a review of Aliso Canyon investigations. The natural gas facility’s 2015 blowout led to the largest-known human-caused release of methane in U.S. history. Los Angeles Daily News

Camille Kennedy of Pasadena will reign as the 102nd Rose Queen at the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day 2020. Pasadena Star-News

How to shop a Oaxacan market like a pro, featuring Bricia Lopez of the esteemed L.A. Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza. LAist

Bricia Lopez, co-owner of Guelaguetza.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Actress Rose McGowan has filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein and his team of high-powered lawyers and covert investigators, accusing them of carrying out a plot to discredit and silence her. Los Angeles Times

A retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide detective recently rehired by Sheriff Alex Villanueva to investigate public corruption was temporarily banned from the jails last year after posing as a deputy and bringing contraband for an inmate, according to county records and interviews. Los Angeles Times

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The Trump administration has replaced the superintendent of Yosemite National Park amid a push to encourage more recreation and tourism in the park. Los Angeles Times

In less than two weeks, daylight saving time will once again come to an end. Hey wait, didn’t we overwhelmingly vote in favor of adopting permanent daylight saving time? Not exactly. Prop. 7, which passed in Nov. 2018, just opened the door to give the state Legislature the power to impose daylight saving time all year, which would need a supermajority vote in the Assembly and Senate. Even then, that would take effect only if federal officials allow states to do so. Here’s a look at where that state effort stands. Sacramento Bee

More Asian American and Pacific Islanders are voting in California — and they have the potential to influence the outcome of the state’s 2020 primary elections. Sacramento Bee

Silicon Valley ❤️‘s Mayor Pete: Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden may be topping national polls, but the deep-pocketed donors of the valley have anointed the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., with their almighty dollars. Buttigieg has out-raised Biden by a 5 to 1 margin among tech donors. Bloomberg

The state medical board has charged a San Diego doctor who doled out dozens of vaccine exemptions. She was charged with gross and repeated negligence, as well as failure to properly maintain records for writing the exemption, and could lose her medical license, be suspended or put on probation. Voice of San Diego

Rep. Katie Hill (D-Santa Clarita) is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee after allegations that she engaged in an affair with a congressional aide were made public last week. Los Angeles Times


Fresno’s police chief and police union are standing by the police sergeant who fatally shot an unarmed 16-year-old boy, while community activists express outrage. Fresno Bee

An El Dorado County sheriff’s deputy was shot and killed early Wednesday morning while responding to a call in a rural community southeast of Placerville. Sacramento Bee


The Trump administration is suing California over a cap-and-trade agreement with Canada. California’s cap-and-trade program requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Los Angeles Times


Costumes, taco carts and canapés? All par for the course when selling luxury homes in Silicon Valley. Social gatherings and free food have long been a staple marketing tool for agents. But in a competitive market for reaching high-end buyers, an extra buzz can make a difference. Mercury News

Merriam-Webster embraced the nonbinary “they.” What about Bay Area schools? San Francisco Chronicle

How a hand-painted food truck is bringing Mexican traditions to San Joaquin Valley streets. “They have something similar in Texas, Puebla and in Los Angeles ... We thought it would be a good idea to bring it to the Valley.” Visalia Times-Delta

From the Dept. of Late-Capitalist Dystopia: Google employees are accusing the company’s leadership of developing an internal surveillance tool that they believe will be used to monitor workers’ attempts to organize protests and discuss labor rights. Bloomberg

Tech dystopia, con’t: Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by Motherboard show how Facebook is using the Menlo Park Police Department to reshape the city. Vice


Los Angeles: sunny, 93. San Diego: sunny, 90. San Francisco: sunny, 85. San Jose: sunny, 90. Sacramento: sunny, 89. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Jacquelyn Jobe:

“Moved to San Francisco in October 1973 when I was 20. Found an office job and a studio apartment for $75 a month right away. I fell in love with this city. The following year I experienced my first summer [there]. Mark Twain was right, ‘The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.’ Yet I stayed for seven years.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.