Inside the audacious college scheme to get kids of the rich and famous into elite schools
The scheme, which allegedly began in 2011, centered on the owner of a for-profit Newport Beach college admissions company that wealthy parents are accused of paying to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and to falsify athletic recor
Federal prosecutors say their investigation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues blows the lid off an audacious college admissions fraud scheme aimed at getting the children of the rich and powerful into elite universities.
Here is a breakdown:
What is Operation Varsity Blues?
According to prosecutors, wealthy parents paid a firm to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and falsify athletic records of students to enable them to secure admission to schools such as UCLA, USC, Stanford, Yale and Georgetown.
Who is William “Rick” Singer?
Singer is a Newport Beach-based businessman who owns an admissions company called the Edge College & Career Network. Authorities describe him as the mastermind behind the scheme.
He has been charged with money laundering, obstruction of justice, racketeering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Prosecutors allege Singer instructed parents to donate money to a fake charity he had established as part of the fraud. Most of the parents paid at least $200,000, but some paid millions. The parents then were able to deduct the donation off their income taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
With those funds, prosecutors allege, Singer bribed college entrance exam administrators to allow a third party to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams, in some cases by posing as the actual students, and in others by providing students with answers during the exams or by correcting their answers after they had completed the tests.
He also allegedly used his connections to bribe university athletic coaches and administrators to designate applicants as athletic recruits regardless of their athletic abilities and, in some cases, even though they didn’t play the sport. In some instances, Singer helped parents doctor images of their children and added them onto the bodies of athletes to give to coaches to further the scheme, prosecutors said.
Who are some of those charged?
The list includes CEOs, powerful business professionals and two actresses:
♦ Lori Laughlin, “Full House” actress: According to court records, Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, the creator of clothing brand Mossimo, “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team” even though they did not participate in crew. She is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.
♦ Felicity Huffman, “Desperate Housewives” actress: Huffman is accused of disguising a $15,000 charitable payment in the bribery scheme, according to court records. Prosecutors allege Huffman met with a confidential witness who explained that he could control an SAT testing center and could arrange for someone to proctor her daughter’s test and correct it. Huffman’s daughter allegedly took the test in December 2017 and received a score of 1420. That was a 400-point improvement from her first test. In October 2018, Huffman was recorded by the FBI discussing participating in this for her younger daughter; however, she did not ultimately pursue it.
♦ Jane Buckingham, consumer trends expert and author of “The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life” parenting book series: Buckingham was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.
♦ Doug Hodge, former PIMCO CEO: According to prosecutors, the former bond firm leader “agreed to use bribery to facilitate the admission of two of his children to USC as purported athletic recruits.”
♦ Various USC officials: USC Senior Associate Athletic Director Donna Heinel and men’s and women’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic were alleged to have received bribes totaling more than $1.3 million and $250,000, respectively, to help parents take advantage of the relaxed admissions standards for athletes at USC, even though their children were not legitimately being recruited as athletes.
Former USC women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin, who was fired by USC in 2013, and his former assistant coach, Laura Janke, who left the school in 2014, also were named in the indictment for allegedly fabricating athlete profiles for the prospective students. Khosroshahin and Janke are accused of receiving payments totaling nearly $350,000 sent to their private soccer club.
Here is a full list of defendants.
What are the universities saying?
Those who were commenting insisted they didn’t know about the fraud.
“At this time, we have no reason to believe that Admissions employees or senior administrators were aware of the scheme or took part in any wrongdoing — and we believe the government concurs in that assessment,” USC said in a statement Tuesday. “The government has repeatedly informed us that it views USC as a victim and that these employees purposefully deceived USC.”
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