Saturday, May 25th, 2019

Celebrities among 50 charged in sweeping US college admissions fraud scheme

It is the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by federal authorities, Boston’s US attorney, Andrew Lelling, said.

“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” said Lelling. “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”

Lori Loughlin, centre, pictured with daughters Bella and Olivia Loughlin at the Teen Choice Awards in 2017.Credit:AP

The nationwide scheme was discovered accidentally by the FBI – while working an unrelated undercover operation, officials said. None of the students were charged because prosecutors said their parents were the scheme’s principal actors.

Singer is scheduled to plead guilty on Tuesday to charges including racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice, according to court papers.

John Vandemoor, a former Stanford University sailing coach, is also scheduled to plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges.

One of the cooperating witnesses, according to court documents, is a former head coach of Yale’s women’s soccer team, who pleaded guilty in the case nearly a year ago and has since been helping FBI agents gather evidence. That coach allegedly took a $US400,000 bribe to place a student on her team roster, help get her into the school, even though that student did not play competitive soccer, officials said. That student’s parents paid $1.2 million in bribes, officials said.

Yale was one of several elite universities that accepted students after bribes or false test results.Credit:The New York Times

Court filings released on Tuesday paint an ugly picture of privileged parents committing crimes to get their children into selective schools. Among those charged are Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, Loughlin, who appeared on Full House, and Loughlin’s husband Mossimo Giannulli, a fashion designer.

Loughlin and Giannulli are accused of paying $US500,000 in bribes so their two daughters would be designated as recruits for the University of Southern California crew team – even though they were not part of the team. That helped the pair get into USC, according to the complaint.

Some of the money was directed to Donna Heinel, a USC athletics official, the complaint alleges.

Huffman is accused of paying $US15,000 – disguised as a charitable donation – to the Key Worldwide Foundation so her oldest daughter could participate in the scam. A confidential informant told investigators that he told Huffman he could arrange for a third party to correct her daughter’s answers on the SAT after she took it. She ended up scoring a 1420 – 400 points higher than she had gotten on a PSAT taken a year earlier.

Huffman also contemplated running a similar scam to help her younger daughter, but ultimately did not pursue it, the complaint alleges.

Other defendants include William McGlashan, chief executive and founder of a private equity firm, and Jane Buckingham, chief executive of a boutique marketing firm in Los Angeles. Last June, Buckingham agreed to make a “donation” to Key Worldwide of $US50,000, in exchange for someone taking a college entrance test on her son’s behalf the following month, authorities say.

The FBI secretly recorded Buckingham talking to one of the people arranging the test for her son. On the tape, according to the complaint, Buckingham talks about the complicated logistics of cheating on the test and said, “I know this is craziness, I know it is. And then I need you to get him into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.”

Prosecutors said Singer’s operation involved advising parents to pretend to test administrators that their child had learning disabilities that allowed them extended time to take the exam.

The parents were then advised to choose one of two test centres that Singer’s company said they have control over: one in Houston, Texas, and the other in West Hollywood, California.

The test administrators in the those centres took bribes to allow Singer’s clients to cheat, often by arranging to have a student’s wrong answers corrected after completing the exam or having another person take the exam.

On a call with a wealthy parent, prosecutors said, Singer summed up his business thusly: “What we do is help the wealthiest families in the US get their kids into school … my families want a guarantee”.

Reuters, Washington Post