Prosecutors filed charges against 33 parents, some of whom are accused of paying between $200,000 and $6.5 million to get their children into elite universities. Also among the accused are nine college coaches who are accused of accepting bribe payments in exchange for granting admission. The scheme also involved faking SAT and ACT scores.
“Their actions were without a doubt insidious, selfish and shameful,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Boston. “Today’s arrests should be a warning to others. You can’t pay to play. You can’t lie and cheat to get ahead.” The FBI dubbed the investigation “Operation Varsity Blues.”
The parents charged in the case include CEOs, real estate investors, and the co-chair of a global law firm. The children gained admission to Yale University, Georgetown University, Stanford University, UCLA and USC.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” said Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney in Boston. “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admission through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud.”
At the center of the case is William “Rick” Singer, 58, who ran Edge College & Career Network LLC, also known as “The Key,” a for-profit college admissions consulting firm. Singer, who is based in Newport Beach, Calif., is also alleged to have set up the Key Worldwide Foundation, a fake charity designed to receive bribe payments.
Singer is alleged to have worked to build fake athletic profiles for students, and then worked with college coaches to gain admission to their schools. The coaches would in some cases pocket the bribe payments for themselves, while others would give the money to their athletic programs, Lelling said. Singer is expected to plead guilty later today.
Huffman and Loughlin were charged with a single felony count of mail fraud. Loughlin’s husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was also charged in the scheme. Huffman was arrested at her home on Tuesday morning. Giannulli was also arrested. Both are expected to appear for a detention hearing in Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday afternoon. Loughlin was not at home Tuesday morning, and authorities are seeking to arrange her surrender, said Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles office of the FBI.
Loughlin and Giannulli are accused of paying $500,000 to have their two daughters accepted to USC as members of the crew team, though they did not participate in crew.
According to an FBI affidavit, Huffman was heard discussing a rigged SAT test for her daughter on recorded phone calls. The affidavit states that Huffman “and her spouse” discussed the arrangement on multiple calls. Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, was not charged and is not named in the affidavit. Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 to Singer’s charitable organization for help gaming the SAT.
According to the affidavit, Singer arranged for Huffman’s daughter to take the test at the West Hollywood Test Center. Singer arranged for a proctor to be there to “administer” the test, and the proctor was paid to correct wrong answers. Huffman’s daughter scored a 1420 on the test, a 400 point improvement from her SAT score.
Singer is alleged to have employed Mark Riddell, a counselor at a private school in Florida, to take college entrance exams on behalf of students, or to correct their answers after the students took the test. Parents paid between $15,000 and $75,000 for this service, sometimes without their children’s knowledge. Riddell was typically paid $10,000 per test, according to prosecutors. Singer is also accused of bribing two test administrators to allow the fraudulent scores to be submitted.
Also charged was John Vandemoer, the head sailing coach at Stanford, who is expected to plead guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge in federal court in Boston. Rudy Meredith, the former head women’s soccer coach at Yale, was charged with racketeering and honest services fraud, and Jovan Vavic, the former water polo coach at USC, was indicted on a racketeering charge. Michael Center, the head coach of the men’s tennis team at the University of Texas at Austin, was also charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
“The federal government has alleged that USC is a victim in a scheme perpetrated against the university by a long-time athletics department employee, one current coach and three former coaching staff, who were allegedly involved in a college admissions scheme and have been charged by the government on multiple charges,” said USC President Wanda M. Austin in an email to students, obtained by Variety. “At this time, we have no reason to believe that Admissions employees or senior administrators were aware of the scheme or took part in any wrongdoing—and we believe the government concurs in that assessment.”