USC and UCLA among universities under federal investigation in college admissions scandal

Federal prosecutors say their investigation blows the lid off an audacious college admissions fraud scheme aimed at getting the children of the rich and powerful into elite universities including USC.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation this week into USC, UCLA, Yale and other universities embroiled in a sweeping college admissions scandal that has sent shock waves through higher-education institutions across the country.

The Education Department told Yale on Monday that it was initiating a preliminary investigation into whether the Ivy League university, along with seven other schools named in the federal bribery investigation, complied with regulations pertaining to the federal student aid program.

“We are reviewing the department’s requests and will respond appropriately,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in a statement.


Officials with UCLA, USC and the University of San Diego confirmed they had also received letters from the agency and plan to cooperate with the probe. The Department of Education is also investigating Wake Forest, Stanford and Georgetown universities and the University of Texas at Austin.

Federal regulators requested a variety of records and information about students and employees implicated in the scheme, as well as all admissions policies since 2009, any records subpoenaed by another agency and any records detailing how the schools review the admission of students recruited for athletic teams.

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for further information Wednesday. However, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos foreshadowed such an investigation shortly after the massive scandal was publicly revealed this month.

“Every student deserves to be considered on their individual merits when applying to college, and it’s disgraceful to see anyone breaking the law to give their children an advantage over others,” DeVos said in a March 13 statement. “The department is looking closely at this issue and working to determine if any of our regulations have been violated.”

The investigation is separate from the criminal probe headed by the Justice Department, which has resulted in the arrests of dozens of people including coaches, administrators, admissions counselors and wealthy parents. Investigators allege that they were part of a ruse that allowed well-heeled families to spend thousands of dollars to secure their children’s admission to exclusive schools.

The scheme, which began in 2011, centered on a Newport Beach college placement firm run by William “Rick” Singer. Parents are accused of paying Singer to help doctor college entrance exams.


Prosecutors say that Singer instructed parents to donate funds to a fake charity he had established as part of the plot. Most of the parents paid at least $200,000, but some spent up to $6.5 million to guarantee their children admission to top universities, authorities said. Parents were then able to deduct the donations from their income taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

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The scheme itself was fairly simple, prosecutors said: Singer instructed parents to seek extended time for their children on ACT and SAT exams. In at least one instance, a student claimed to have a learning disability to obtain medical documentation required by the College Board and ACT Inc. to grant additional time on the tests, according to court documents.

Prosecutors also allege that Singer helped create fake athletic profiles for students and facilitated bribes to coaches to get them to designate certain teens as athletic recruits, regardless of whether they actually played.

Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, J. Mossimo Giannulli, who are both charged in the scheme, allegedly agreed to bribe USC senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel to designate their daughters as athletic recruits on the crew team despite the fact they had never participated in the sport, according to an FBI affidavit.

The couple’s daughters, Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Giannulli, are still enrolled at USC, though it is not clear if they are currently attending classes.


Heinel, who is also charged in the case, and men’s and women’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic were both fired after allegations came to light that they had received bribes in exchange for helping students get into USC as purported athletic recruits.

Jorge Salcedo, the UCLA men’s soccer coach who has also been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, resigned following allegations that he submitted falsified soccer profiles of students to the university.

Court records allege one of those students was Lauren Isackson, whose parents began conspiring with Singer in 2015 to have their daughter admitted as an athletic recruit, according to an indictment filed in federal court. Their first choice was USC, but because of a “clerical error,” Isackson’s fake athletic profile was diverted to the normal admissions process in February 2017, foiling Singer’s scheme, according to an FBI affidavit.

Singer then sent the fake athletic profile of Isackson to Ali Khosroshahin, a former USC women’s soccer coach, who passed it on to Salcedo, prosecutors say. Khosroshahin has also been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering.

The University of San Diego was implicated in the effort to fraudulently admit two students from the same Beverly Hills family, although only one ended up attending the university. Its former men’s basketball coach, Lamont Smith, has been identified as the unnamed coach accused in court documents of accepting bribes on behalf of the students, but he has not been charged.

The Associated Press and Kristina Davis of the San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.