Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman and Full House‘s Lori Loughlin have been indicted for allegedly taking part in a scheme involving parents who paid bribes of up to US$6 million to get their children into elite colleges such as Yale and Harvard.
The racketeering conspiracy charges unveiled Tuesday were also brought against athletic coaches at schools including Wake Forest University, Georgetown University and the University of Southern California.
Authorities say the coaches accepted bribes in exchange for admitting students as athletes, regardless of their ability.
Prominent B.C. businessman and philanthropist David Sidoo was charged in connection with the scheme.
Prosecutors say parents paid an admissions consultant $25 million from 2011 through February 2019 to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes to boost their chances of getting into schools.
Prosecutors allege that fake athletic profiles were also created to make students look like strong high school athletes when they actually weren’t.
Authorities say the consulting company also bribed administrators of college entrance exams to allow a Florida man to take the tests on behalf of students or replace their answers with his.
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The indictment was filed by the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and the documents outlining the racketeering conspiracy charges were unsealed on March 12.
In total, roughly 50 individuals — including Loughlin’s husband, Mossimo Giannulli, as well as business executives — have been charged.
Those arrested include two SAT/ACT administrators, one exam proctor, nine coaches at elite schools, one college administrator and 33 parents according to Andrew Lelling, the US Attorney for Massachusetts.
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Defendant William Singer was paid roughly $25 million dollars by parents to help their children get in to schools. Singer helped pay individuals money to take the exams or help improve their scores after.
Several defendants, including Huffman, were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The actresses are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
The unsealed documents allege that Huffman and her husband, William H. Macy, “made a purported charitable contribution of $15,000…to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter. Huffman later made arrangements to pursue the scheme a second time, for her younger daughter, before deciding not to do so.”
The documents also say that Loughlin and her husband “agreed to pay bribes totalling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC.”
In most cases, the students did not know their admission to the schools was contingent on a bribe.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Lelling said the college admissions scam is a nationwide scheme, but there were several connections to the Boston area.
“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” Lelling said in announcing the $25 million federal bribery case.
“It appears to be a conspiracy nationwide in scope,” he told reporters. “There are several connections to the Boston area. So fake test scores, for example, were submitted to Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern.”
Lelling also said that, “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected.”
Lelling said it was the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The schools themselves are not targets of the investigation, he said.
No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the teenagers were not aware of what was going on.
A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.
Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, tennis and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience.
The investigation began when authorities received a tip about the admissions 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 accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience. That, in turn, improved their chances of admission.
Prosecutors said parents were also instructed to claim their children had learning disabilities so that they could take the ACT or SAT by themselves, with extra time. That made it easier to pull off the tampering, prosecutors said.
Among the parents charged were Gordon Caplan of Greenwich, Connecticut, a co-chairman of an international law firm based in New York; Jane Buckingham, CEO of a boutique marketing company in Los Angeles; Gregory Abbott of New York, founder and chairman of a packaging company; and Manuel Henriquez, CEO of a finance company based in Palo Alto, California.
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 co-operating witness, he was told his daughter needed “to be stupid” when a psychologist evaluated her for learning disabilities in order to get more time for the exam, 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.
At one point, Caplan asked if schools were “concerned with this.”
“Schools don’t know. Schools don’t know,”the witness said.
The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in Newport Beach, California. Authorities said parents paid the founder of the Edge College & Career Network approximately $25 million to get their children into college.
Messages seeking comment with representatives for Huffman and Loughlin were not immediately returned.
—With files from the Associated PressFollow @KatieScottNews
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