BOSTON (Reuters) – Nearly 50 people, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged on Tuesday in what federal authorities say is a $25m (£19m) scam to help wealthy Americans to get their children into elite universities like Yale and Stanford.
The most sweeping college admissions fraud scheme ever uncovered in the United States was orchestrated by a small college prep firm based in Newport Beach, California, prosecutors have said. He relied on bribes paid to coaches, bogus contestants and even doctored photos misrepresenting non-athletic contestants as elite competitors to get the offspring of wealthy parents admitted.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Andrew Lelling, the US attorney in Boston, told a news conference. “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and truly talented student has been rejected.”
William “Rick” Singer, 58, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges related to running the program through his Edge College & Career Network, which charged $100,000 to $2.5 million per child for services, which were masked as contributions to a Singer charity scam works.
“I was basically buying or bribing coaches for a spot,” Singer said as he pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges. “And it happened very frequently.”
Dressed in a dark sweater blazer, wearing glasses, her hair in a ponytail, Huffman, best known for her role in the television series ‘Desperate Housewives’, was among about 20 defendants who appeared before a Los Angeles court.
Many were slumped in chairs and one woman tried to hide her face. Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, known for his roles in films such as ‘Fargo’ and the hit TV series ‘Shameless’, sat front row in court wearing a gray sweater .
Magistrate Judge Alexander MacKinnon ordered Huffman released on $250,000 bond ahead of a March 29 hearing in Boston.
All of the defendants who appeared in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles were eligible for bail, Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said in an email.
Macy has not been charged in the case, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Schleifer told the court he was a “subject of the investigation.”
Loughlin’s husband, Mossimo Giannulli, a fashion designer known for his “Mossimo” brand, sat in court wearing a hoodie and cropped hair. He was released on $1 million bail. Loughlin, best known for her role in the ABC sitcom “Full House” and the recent Netflix sequel “Fuller House,” has also been charged.
Huffman, Giannulli and Loughlin have yet to plead.
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The case was the latest in a series of scandals that have rocked the high-stakes, high-stress world of admissions to top universities. Boston prosecutors have also charged Chinese nationals with cheating on entrance exams in recent years, while the College Board, which administers the SAT tests, was rocked in 2016 by a security breach that exposed hundreds of questions. scheduled for testing.
Some 300 law enforcement officers swept the country making arrests in what officers called “Operation Varsity Blues”.
Prosecutors have so far named 33 parents, 13 coaches and Singer business associates.
Other parents charged include Manuel Henriquez, the chief executive of specialty financial lender Hercules Capital Inc; Gordon Caplan, co-chair of international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher; Bill McGlashan Jr., who heads a buyout investment arm of private equity firm TPG Capital; and Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of investment management firm Pimco.
Representatives for the companies and Huffman and Loughlin declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
The alleged masterminds of the scam and the parents who contributed to it could all face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
During a call with a wealthy parent, prosecutors said Singer summed up his business: “What we do is help the wealthiest families in the United States get their kids to school.”
No students have been charged and authorities said some of them were unaware of the scams.
Prosecutors said it was up to universities to decide what to do with students admitted through cheating.
Yale University and the University of Southern California (USC) said they were cooperating with investigators.
“The Department of Justice believes Yale was the victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women’s soccer coach,” Yale said in a statement.
Coach Rudolph Meredith resigned in November after 24 years at the helm of the women’s soccer team. Meredith, who is accused of accepting a $400,000 bribe from Singer, must plead guilty, prosecutors said. His attorney declined to comment.
John Vandemoer, a former Stanford University sailing coach who worked with Singer, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy on Tuesday.
Prosecutors said the program began in 2011 and has also helped children gain entry to the University of Texas, Georgetown University, Wake Forest University and the University of California, Los Angeles. (UCLA).
Part of the scheme involved advising parents to lie to test administrators that their child had a learning disability that granted them extra exam time.
Parents were then asked to choose one of two testing centers that Singer’s company said it had control over: one in Houston, Texas, and the other in West Hollywood, California.
Test administrators at these centers are accused of accepting bribes of tens of thousands of dollars to allow Singer clients to cheat, often by arranging for incorrect answers to be corrected or passing the test. examination to another person. Singer would agree in advance with the parents on the score they wanted the child to achieve.
In many cases, the students were unaware that their parents had organized the cheating, prosecutors said, although in other cases they knowingly participated. None of the children were charged on Tuesday.
Singer has also helped parents stage photos of their children doing sports or even photoshopped children’s faces onto images of athletes uploaded to the internet to exaggerate their athletic credentials.
Wake Forest said it placed volleyball head coach Bill Ferguson on administrative leave after he was among coaches accused of taking bribes.
According to the criminal complaint, investigators overheard McGlashan of TPG Capital listening to Singer tell him to send photos of his son doing sports that he could digitally manipulate to create a fake sports profile.
“The way the world works these days is amazing,” McGlashan told Singer, according to court documents.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Joseph Ax and Gabriella Borter in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; written by Jonathan Allen; edited by Scott Malone, Bill Berkrot, Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker