11 lies uncovered in the college admissions scam: a phony coxswain, made-up learning disabilities and fictional athletes
Typically, only the very best teen athletes make their way into the sports programs at elite universities.
But federal prosecutors alleged this week that, when it came to the kids of dozens of very rich parents, those rules didn’t apply.
The charges filed by the Justice Department in the college admissions case lay out a stunningly audacious scheme: Wealthy, often famous people getting their kids into top-tier universities though fraud, bribery and deceit.
The 200-plus pages of prosecution documents are littered with details of the parents’ alleged efforts to game the system. Here are some examples:
1) Rowing could apparently get you into USC — no experience necessary. Prosecutors allege that actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, renowned fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, saw being a coxswain the activity as their daughter Olivia Jade’s ticket into USC, even though she had never competed in the sport. According to the affidavit, USC associate athletic director Donna Heinel, who was also charged in the scheme, asked them to submit photos of her in a “boat” where it is “tough to see the face.” The couple also submitted a photo of their daughter rowing — on a machine.
“I wanted to provide you with an update on the status of [your younger daughter’s] admission offer to USC. First and foremost, they have no intention of rescinding [her] admission and were surprised to hear that was even a concern for you and your family. You can verify that with [the USC senior assistant director of admissions] ... if you would like. I also shared with [the USC senior assistant director of admission] that you had visited this morning and affirmed for me that [your younger daughter] is truly a coxswain.”see the document
2) Prosecutors say L.A.-based entrepreneur Jane Buckingham’s son was all set to travel to Houston to take the ACT college admissions test with a proctor who was in on the scheme. But when the youth had to have his tonsils removed, travel was ruled out. So William “Rick” Singer, the admitted mastermind of the scheme, found a workaround: Buckingham could pay $50,000 to have someone take the test for her son while he took a practice ACT at home so “he would believe he had taken the test,” the affidavit says. To make it work, Singer said the boy would need to submit a handwriting sample. “Just want to make sure we’re close in our writing,” Singer said, according to the affidavit.
3) Part of the scheme allegedly involved students falsely being classified as having a learning disability so they could take the test under the supervision of a proctor who would make sure they got a high score. A psychologist on Singer’s payroll would classify the student as having learning disabilities, prosecutors said. In a phone call, Singer allegedly told Gordon R. Caplan, co-chairman of the New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, to instruct his daughter when she got tested “to be stupid, not to be as smart as she is. The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies.” This allegedly cost Caplan $75,000.
“Oh yeah, there’s times when we have to appeal because, you know, for whatever reason. You have to understand that College Board and ACT both outsource their decisions to a committee, ‘cause they’re tired of being sued. For, you know, so they do the outsourcing. So, sometimes you have to re-appeal so that psychologist that’ll do the testing, will actually write up an appeal. So we’ll do that, and I also need to tell [your daughter] when she gets tested, to be as, to be stupid, not to be as smart as she is. The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies. And she knows that she’s getting all this extra time, everywhere that she is right now. At the Academy kids are getting extra time all the time”.see the document
4) Manuel Henriquez, chairman and CEO of Hercules Technology Growth Capital, a venture debt firm, saw tennis as his daughter’s entree into Georgetown University, prosecutors alleged. Even though she had ranked just 207th among girls in Northern California as an under-12 player and never played in a U.S. Tennis Assn. tournament in high school, she claimed a top-50 USTA ranking. “[B]eing a part of Georgetown women’s tennis team has always been a dream of mine. For years I have spent three, four hours a day grinding out on and off court workouts with the hopes of becoming successful enough to play college tennis especially at Georgetown,” she wrote in her application essay, according to the affidavit. Georgetown’s tennis coach, Gordon Ernst, was among those charged.
“The HENRIQUEZES’ daughter’s application was submitted to Georgetown on or about October 25, 2015. In addition to the falsified essay, the application falsely indicated that she played ‘club tennis’ all through high school for 20 hours per week and 52 weeks per year, and listed her as having a ‘Top 50 ranking’ in the United States Tennis Association (‘USTA’) Junior Girls Tennis for her sophomore through senior years of high school, and as being on the USTA All-Academic Team for tennis for her junior and senior years. In fact, records obtained from the USTA do not show that she played at any USTA tournaments in high school.”see the document
5) Rick Singer was going to get private equity firm founder Bill McGlashan’s son into USC on the strength of his football credentials — the only problem was his son’s high school didn’t have a football team. So Singer told McGlashan, managing partner of TPG Growth, they would make him into a kicker by doctoring photos using PhotoShop. “You could inspire him, [Rick]. You may actually turn him into something. I love it,” McGlashan tells Singer in a wiretapped phone call detailed in the affidavit.
“Hey Bill, so we’re gonna-- met with [USC], because the [high school your son attends] does not have a football team, I’m gonna make him a kicker/punter and they’re gonna walk him through with football, and I’ll get a picture and figure out how to Photoshop and stuff, so it looks like it and the guy who runs the biggest kicking camp is a good friend, so we’ll put a bunch of stuff about that on his profile, and we should be in pretty good shape to get that done. It’s just a matter of, when I get the profile done, get it to them and figure out when they’re gonna have a subcommittee meeting, so I’ll let you know.”see the document
6) In 2012, philanthropist David Sidoo allegedly paid Singer $200,000 to have someone take the SAT for his two sons. One was accepted into Chapman University. Years later, as Sidoo’s son was applying to business school, Sidoo allegedly told an unnamed person related to the case: “I thought you were gonna call me and say I got a 2100 on my GMAT.” The unnamed person had to clarify that the highest possible score on the graduate business school admissions test is 800. “They don’t have 2100 for the GMAT. But I would do my best to get it for yah.” Sidoo, apparently joking, replied, “I know.”
“On or about October 25, 2018, called SIDOO from Boston, Massachusetts. In the call, SIDOO noted that his older son was applying to business school, adding, ‘I thought you were gonna call me and say I got a 2100 on my GMAT’—a reference to a standardized test that is widely used as part of the business school admissions process, which is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. responded, ‘They don’t have a 2100 for the GMAT. But I would do my best to get it for ya.’ SIDOO replied, ‘I know.’”see the document
7) Loughlin and Giannulli allegedly shelled out $500,000 to get their daughters into USC, but Giannulli apparently was concerned that their older daughter might end up at a less prestigious school. In an email, Giannulli emphasized to Singer that he wanted to “make sure we have a roadmap for … getting her into a school other than ASU!”
“We just met with [our older daughter’s] college counselor this am. I’d like to maybe sit with you after your session with the girls as I have some concerns and want to fully understand the game plan and make sure we have a roadmap for success as it relates to [our daughter] and getting her into a school other than ASU!”see the document
8) In summer 2014, USC’s new women’s soccer coach was confused about one name on her roster. The daughter of Del Mar insurance executive Toby MacFarlane was on the list, “but I don’t know who she is and [she] is not counted in my numbers,” the coach emailed to a member of the athletic department. The coach had also emailed MacFarlane’s daughter directly, asking her to “contact me asap please.” Singer’s recommendation to MacFarlane? Tell the program she had “plantar fasciitis and will not be practicing or playing for a while.”
“On or about August 15, 2014, the newly appointed head coach of women’s soccer at USC responded to the e-mail from the academic counselor, noting, ‘[MACFARLANE’s daughter] doesn’t play for us.’ The coach then e-mailed MACFARLANE’s daughter directly: ‘I’m sorry but I don’t have you on my list of players. Could you contact me asap please.’ The coach also e-mailed a member of the USC athletics department that ‘[MACFARLANE’s daughter] was on the list from the coaches, but I don’t know who she is and [she] is not counted in my numbers.’”see the document
9) Before she showed up at school, MacFarlane’s daughter had to submit an application essay. Her application already falsely stated that she had been a “U.S. Club Soccer All American” for three years in high school and, since she was ostensibly going to be on the soccer team, her essay had to be about soccer. So Singer wrote an essay for her, claiming she “plays without a care for her body or anyone else’s on the field.”
“On the soccer or lacrosse field I am the one who looks like a boy amongst girls with my hair tied up, arms sleeveless, and blood and bruises from head to toe. My parents have a hard time attending my soccer matches because our opponent’s parents are always making rude remarks about that number 8 player who plays without a care for her body or anyone else’s on the field. It is true that I can be a bit intense out there on the field.”see the document
10) At one point, Caplan, the New York law firm co-chairman, expressed some concern that the scheme could unravel. “It’s just, to be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished,” he said, according to a transcript of a wiretapped conversation included in the affidavit. That concern, though, was apparently slightly overshadowed by a different worry — that his daughter would find out her SAT score and realize that her acceptance into school wasn’t on the up-and-up. Singer attempted to assuage that concern.
“She’ll, she’ll think, right, she’ll think she took it. She’ll feel good about herself. She’ll get a great score and she’ll be like, ‘Mom and dad, can I…’ You know what’s going to happen? She’s going to say, ‘Dad, can I re-take the test again? ‘Cause I think I can do better.’ And that happens all the time, right? She’ll get whatever, and we will say no, just so you know that.”see the document
11) Devin Sloane really wanted his son to get into USC via water polo, but he had never played the sport. So Sloane purchased some water polo gear on Amazon, and later emailed Singer photos of his son “purporting to play water polo, with his right arm and upper torso exposed above the water line,” according to the affidavit. Singer said Sloane’s son would be presented as a member of the Italian junior national team.
“On or about July 16, 2017, CW-1 e-mailed SLOANE to request biographical details for the profile. CW-1 indicated that the profile would falsely present SLOANE’s son as a ‘Perimeter Player’ who played for the ‘Italian Junior National Team’ and the ‘LA Water Polo’ team. The following day, SLOANE replied with the personal information for the profile.”see the document
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.