TV stars and coaches charged in college bribery scheme

  • FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2019 file photo, actress Lori Loughlin, center, poses with daughters Olivia Jade Giannulli, left, and Isabella Rose Giannulli at the 2019 "An Unforgettable Evening" in Beverly Hills, Calif. Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) Chris Pizzello

  • U.S. Attorney for District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling announces indictments in a sweeping college admissions bribery scandal, during a news conference, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2019 file photo, actress Lori Loughlin poses with her daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli, left, at the 2019 "An Unforgettable Evening" in Beverly Hills, Calif. Felicity Huffman and Loughlin have worked steadily as respected actresses and remained recognizable if not-quite-A-list names for decades. Neither has ever had a whiff of criminality or scandal tied to their name until both were charged with fraud and conspiracy Tuesday along with dozens of others in a scheme that according to federal prosecutors saw wealthy parents pay bribes to get their children into some of the nation’s top colleges. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) Chris Pizzello

  • FILE - This Sept. 9, 2016 photo shows Harkness Tower on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Dozens of people were charged Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation's most elite schools. The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Wake Forest, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz, File) Beth Harpaz

  • William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston on Tuesday, after he pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. ap photo

  • Actor William H. Macy arrives at the federal courthouse in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Fifty people, including Macy's wife, actress Felicity Huffman and actress Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation's most elite schools. Macy was not charged; authorities did not say why. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo) Alex Gallardo

  • FILE - This Sept. 17, 2017 file photo shows actress Felicity Huffman at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Huffman and Lori Laughlin have worked steadily as respected actresses and remained recognizable if not-quite-A-list names for decades. Neither has ever had a whiff of criminality or scandal tied to their name until both were charged with fraud and conspiracy Tuesday along with dozens of others in a scheme that according to federal prosecutors saw wealthy parents pay bribes to get their children into some of the nation’s top colleges. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File) Jordan Strauss

  • This May 21, 2018 photo shows the Wake Forest University commencement on Hearn Plaza, in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dozens of people were charged Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation's most elite schools. The coaches worked at such schools as Wake Forest, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP) Walt Unks

  • John Vandemoer, former head sailing coach at Stanford, arrives at federal court in Boston on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, where he was expected to plead guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • FILE - This May 15, 2002 file photo shows Los-Angeles based clothing designer Mossimo Giannulli posing with his fall preview clothing for Target department stores in New York. Giannulli and his wife, actress Lori Loughlin were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) KATHY WILLENS

  • FILE - In this April 10, 2016 file photo, actress Lori Loughlin arrives at the TV Land Icon Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. Felicity Huffman and Loughlin have worked steadily as respected actresses and remained recognizable if not-quite-A-list names for decades. Neither has ever had a whiff of criminality or scandal tied to their name until both were charged with fraud and conspiracy Tuesday, March 12, 2019, along with dozens of others in a scheme that according to federal prosecutors saw wealthy parents pay bribes to get their children into some of the nation’s top colleges. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP, File) Rich Fury

  • FILE - In this Dec. 14, 2014 file photo, UCLA coach Jorge Salcedo reacts during the first half of an NCAA College Cup championship soccer game against Virginia in Cary, N.C. Salcedo was charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said. UCLA said that Salcedo has been placed on leave pending a review and will have no involvement with the team. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File) Gerry Broome

  • FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2012 file photo, a Stanford University student walks in front of Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, Calif. Federal authorities have charged college coaches and others in a sweeping admissions bribery case in federal court. The racketeering conspiracy charges were unsealed Tuesday, March 12, 2019, against coaches at schools including Stanford, Wake Forest, Georgetown, the University of Southern California and the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File) Paul Sakuma

  • FBI Special Agent in Charge Boston Division Joseph Bonavolonta, left, and U.S. Attorney for District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, right, face reporters as they announce indictments in a sweeping college admissions bribery scandal during a news conference, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2018 file photo, Felicity Huffman, left, and William H. Macy arrive at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said. Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained the scam to them. The cooperator told investigators that Huffman and her spouse "agreed to the plan." (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File) Jordan Strauss

  • U.S. Attorney for District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling announces indictments in a sweeping college admissions bribery scandal, during a news conference, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Boston. Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said. "For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2015, file photo, students walk on the University of California, Los Angeles campus. Federal authorities have charged college coaches and others in a sweeping admissions bribery case in federal court. The racketeering conspiracy charges were unsealed Tuesday, March 12, 2019, against coaches at schools including UCLA, Wake Forest, Stanford, Georgetown, and the University of Southern California. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File) Damian Dovarganes

  • This combination photo shows actress Lori Loughlin at the Women's Cancer Research Fund's An Unforgettable Evening event in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 27, 2018, left, and actress Felicity Huffman at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, 2018. Loughlin and Huffman are among at least 40 people indicted in a sweeping college admissions bribery scandal. Both were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in indictments unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Boston. (AP Photo)

  • FILE - In this July 10, 2013, file photo, prospective students tour Georgetown University's campus in Washington. Federal authorities have charged college coaches and others in a sweeping admissions bribery case in federal court. The racketeering conspiracy charges were unsealed Tuesday, March 12, 2019, against the coaches at schools including Georgetown, Wake Forest University and the University of Southern California. Authorities say the coaches accepted bribes in exchange for admitting students as athletes, regardless of their ability. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) Jacquelyn Martin

Published: 3/12/2019 10:54:27 PM

BOSTON — Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation’s most elite schools.

Federal authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance, fashion and other fields, were among those charged. Dozens, including Huffman, the Emmy-winning star of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” were arrested by midday.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the results of a fraud and conspiracy investigation code-named Operation Varsity Blues.

The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

Two more of those charged — Stanford’s sailing coach and the college-admissions consultant at the very center of the scheme — pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston.

No students were charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were unaware of what was going on. Several of the colleges involved made no mention of taking any action against the students.

The scandal is certain to inflame longstanding complaints that children of the wealthy and well-connected have the inside track in college admissions — sometimes through big, timely donations from their parents — and that privilege begets privilege.

College consultants were not exactly shocked by the allegations.

“This story is the proof that there will always be a market for parents who have the resources and are desperate to get their kid one more success,” said Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. “This was shopping for name-brand product and being willing to spend whatever it took.”

The central figure in the scheme was identified as admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, California. He pleaded guilty Tuesday, as did Stanford’s John Vandemoer.

Prosecutors said that parents paid Singer big money from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes to boost their chances of getting into college.

The consultant also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students, and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students’ answers.

Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.

“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.

Several defendants, including Huffman, were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The IRS is also investigating, since some parents allegedly disguised the bribes as charitable donations. The colleges themselves are not targets, Lelling said.

The investigation began when authorities received a tip about the scheme from someone they were interviewing in a separate case, Lelling said. He did not elaborate.

Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball took payoffs to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience.

Prosecutors said parents were also instructed to claim their children had learning disabilities so that they could take the ACT or SAT by themselves and get extra time. That made it easier to pull off the tampering, prosecutors said.

The fraud included staged photographs of students playing sports, and other photos that were doctored to superimpose applicants’ faces on the bodies of genuine athletes, authorities said.

Among the parents charged was Gordon Caplan of Greenwich, Connecticut, co-chairman of an international law firm based in New York. He and other parents did not immediately return telephone or email messages for comment.

Caplan was accused of paying $75,000 to get a test supervisor to correct the answers on her daughter’s ACT exam after she took it. In a conversation last June with a cooperating witness, he was told his daughter needed to “be stupid” when a psychologist evaluated her for learning disabilities, according to court papers.

“It’s the home run of home runs,” the witness said.

“And it works?” Caplan asked.

“Every time,” the witness responded, prompting laughter from both.

In another case, a young woman got into Yale in exchange for $1.2 million from the family. A false athletic profile created for the student said she had been on China’s junior national development team.

Prosecutors said Yale coach Rudolph Meredith received $400,000, even though he knew the student did not play competitive soccer. Meredith did not return messages seeking comment.

Colleges moved quickly to discipline the coaches and distance themselves from the scandal, portraying themselves as victims.

Stanford fired the sailing coach, UCLA suspended its soccer coach, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach. USC said it is reviewing its admissions process to prevent such abuses.

Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House” in the 1980s and ‘90s. Huffman was nominated for an Oscar for playing a transgender woman in the 2005 movie “Transamerica.” She also starred in the TV show “Sports Night” and appeared in such films as “Reversal of Fortune,” “Magnolia” and “The Spanish Prisoner.”

Messages seeking comment from Huffman’s representative were not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for Loughlin had no comment.

Loughlin and her husband allegedly gave $500,000 to have their two daughters labeled as recruits to the USC crew team, even though neither participated in the sport. Their 19-year-old daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli, a social media star with a popular YouTube channel, is now at USC.

Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the college entrance-exam cheating scam.

Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them that he “controlled” a testing center and could have somebody secretly change her daughter’s answers. The person told investigators the couple agreed to the plan.

Macy was not charged; authorities did not say why.

The couple’s daughter, Sofia, is an aspiring actress who attends Los Angeles High School of the Arts.

Sklarow, the independent education consultant, said the scandal “certainly speaks to the fact that the admissions process is broken.”

“It’s so fraught with anxiety, especially at the elite schools,” he said, “that I think it can’t be surprising that millionaires who have probably never said no to their kids are trying to play the system in order to get their child accepted.”


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