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Today: That Old College Lie

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 records of students to enable them to secure admission to elite schools.

A closer look at the allegations of a brazen scheme involving the rich and famous buying spots for their children at top universities.

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That Old College Lie

It’s a story of wealth, celebrity, privilege and fraud, involving corporate executives, Hollywood stars and some of America’s top universities. In an investigation of admissions fraud dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, federal prosecutors say at least dozens of families paid huge sums to Newport Beach businessman William Singer to gain access to schools such as USC, UCLA, Stanford and Yale through bribes and lies. Singer has pleaded guilty to money laundering, obstruction of justice, racketeering and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The full list of those indicted has 50 names, including actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer J. Mossimo Giannulli, as well as actress Felicity Huffman, who was met by FBI agents with their guns drawn when she opened the door to her Los Angeles home, according to a source. At USC, a high-ranking athletic department administrator and a legendary water polo coach have been fired, while at UCLA, a longtime men’s soccer coach was placed on leave. But as sensational as the alleged criminal scheme is, some in academia say a deeper problem is the way in which money legally gives well-heeled applicants an advantage in the college admissions game.

Our Columnists React to the Scandal

-- Steve Lopez: It’s “a story for our time, a perfect snapshot of fatuous American greed and savage inequality.”

-- Dylan Hernandez: “Trojan Nation learned Tuesday that USC’s athletic department was something worse than comically inept. It was also brazenly corrupt.”

-- Mary McNamara: Felicity Huffman “was not the richest nor most powerful person on the list, but she was certainly the most famous. And the most shocking.”

Putting the Death Penalty on Pause

California has 737 condemned inmates on death row, more than any other state in the nation. Today, Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign an executive order to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, closing the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison and stopping the state’s efforts to devise a constitutional method for lethal injection. Newsom is pledging that no prisoner in California will be executed while he is in office. But his order is sure to spark legal challenges and runs counter to recent elections. Over the last six years, voters rejected two statewide ballot measures to repeal the death penalty and favored fast-tracking the appeals process.

More Politics

-- Months after taking control of the House on a promise to hold President Trump accountable, Democrats are signaling that they’re unlikely to pursue impeachment, lowering expectations that the special counsel’s report will spur an immediate attempt to unseat the president.

-- Former Vice President Joe Biden has given his strongest signal yet that he could soon get into the 2020 presidential race while speaking to a friendly union audience that greeted him with chants of “Run, Joe, run!”

-- Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels in two unsuccessful lawsuits against Trump, is no longer representing the pornographic film actress.

A Sea Change for Storms

What could be more damaging than California’s wildfires and earthquakes? Researchers say that a rise in sea level by the end of the century combined with storms could bring devastation on a scale that is far greater than the disasters the state has seen before. A first-of-its-kind study has found that more than half a million Californians and $150 billion in property are at risk of flooding along the coast by 2100 — equivalent to 6% of the state’s GDP.

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One Pilot’s Mysterious Double Life

Jordan Aaron was the president of a Carson City sushi restaurant who once ran for justice of the peace in Arizona. Antonio Pastini was the brash ex-Chicago cop who befriended Nevada brothel mogul Dennis Hof and spun yarns of his bare-knuckled youth in the Windy City that read like a cross between “Goodfellas” and “The Outsiders.” They were one and the same person — and on Super Bowl Sunday, he died when his twin-engine Cessna crashed in a Yorba Linda neighborhood, killing four people on the ground. So who was he?

Butterflies in the Sky

It seems as if just about everywhere you look these days in Southern California, there they are: orange-and-black butterflies. Though some people have mistaken them for monarchs or moths, Painted Ladies have been flitting across California on their annual migration as winter gives way to spring. What’s noticeable this time, scientists say, is the sheer number of 2- to 3-inch butterflies making the journey. The millions of insects belie an ongoing crisis for California’s butterflies, whose population reached historic lows last year.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

On this date in 1961, the Greek freighter Dominator ran aground off the Palos Verdes Peninsula while carrying 9,000 tons of Canadian grain in the fog. The U.S. Coast Guard and tug boats tried to refloat the 441-foot vessel, but heavy surf and high winds pushed it higher onto the submerged rocks. The wreckage would later prove deadly to curious skindivers. The Dominator’s rusty remains can still be seen today.

Two days after the Dominator ran aground, a crowd gathered at Rocky Point in Palos Verdes Estates to watch as a tug attempted to refloat the merchant ship. It would not budge.
Two days after the Dominator ran aground, a crowd gathered at Rocky Point in Palos Verdes Estates to watch as a tug attempted to refloat the merchant ship. It would not budge. (Charles Crawford / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

-- Is Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s “truth and reconciliation” panel legal? That’s what the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors wants to know.

-- Documents from the cases that resulted in the firing of Los Angeles Police Department officers for lying and sexual misconduct are among the first released by the LAPD under a landmark state transparency law.

-- The margin to win the second spot in a runoff against Jackie Goldberg for an L.A. school board seat has shrunk to 35 votes, with Heather Repenning just ahead of Graciela Ortiz.

-- Health officials are warning that travelers at L.A. International Airport may have been exposed to measles late last month, after a passenger who had a layover at LAX on Feb. 21 was diagnosed with the disease.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

-- Actor Shia LaBeouf found friendship and more with his costar Zack Gottsagen while shooting “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” which had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival.

-- Meet the female Kiwi comedy duo killing rom-com cliches in Netflix’s “The Breaker Upperers,” about two friends running a service helping clients “consciously, forcibly, and irreversibly uncouple.”

-- Gerard Way has taken a long, strange journey from the band My Chemical Romance to the “Umbrella Academy” comics.

-- Times art critic Christopher Knight is not a fan of the L.A. County Museum of Art’s reorganization plan. Here’s why.

NATION-WORLD

-- The Trump administration has taken another step to cut back services to people seeking to legally enter the U.S. and focus instead on a ballooning backlog of immigration cases, announcing that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would close all its international offices.

-- Britain has been thrown into deeper political turmoil after lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal.

-- A U.N. Security Council report says North Korea has continued to use brazen methods to get around international sanctions designed to pressure the isolated country into giving up its nuclear program.

-- Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced in an Australian court to six years in prison for molesting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral more than 20 years ago.

-- An Iranian lawyer who defended women arrested for protesting the country’s mandatory head scarf law has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, according to her husband.

BUSINESS

-- The twin-engine 737 is Boeing Co.’s most-produced jetliner and a workhorse of the aviation industry. With the latest version, the 737 Max, under intense global scrutiny after two fatal crashes since October, Boeing now faces a quickly escalating threat to its reputation and financial health.

-- At a congressional hearing, Democratic and Republican lawmakers unloaded on Wells Fargo & Co. Chief Executive Tim Sloan and said they weren’t buying his message of contrition for the company’s many scandals and commitment to treating its employees and customers right.

SPORTS

-- The Lakers ended a five-game losing streak, and LeBron James added to his highlight reel.

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-- In this podcast, former middleweight boxing champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin discusses his future.

OPINION

-- The college admissions process was scandalous long before we learned about celebrity bribes.

-- Paul Manafort will again face a judge for sentencing today. Another light sentence would be business as usual for U.S. financial crimes.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

-- An author who investigated “how the rich buy their children’s way into elite colleges reflects on the latest scandal — and remembers when affluent readers mistook his expose for a ‘how-to’ guide.” (ProPublica)

-- Thirty years ago, Tim Berners-Lee proposed what would become the World Wide Web. Today, he’s warning about the “sources of dysfunction” it faces. (NBC News)

-- Why do so many ancient Egyptian statues have broken noses? (Artsy)

ONLY IN L.A.

What do Lucille Ball, Brandi Chastain and David Beckham have in common? We’re not aware of Lucy knowing how to play soccer, so it must be that all three have had their likenesses botched by sculptors. But in Beckham’s case, a hideous statue of him in an L.A. Galaxy uniform was a fake — part of a prank by late-night host James Corden that apparently bent Beckham out of shape, at least for a moment.

If you like this newsletter, please share it with friends. Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.

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