By: Tom Winter, Pete Williams, Julia Ainsley and Rich Schapiro – nbcnews.com – March 12, 2019
Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among 50 people charged in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scheme, according to court documents unsealed in Boston on Tuesday.
The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.
Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children’s chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches to identify the applicants as athletes.
“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth, combined with fraud,” U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said.
“There can be no separate college admission for the wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either,” he said.
Lelling stressed that the colleges themselves are not targets of the investigation, which is ongoing. No students were charged, and authorities said in many cases they were kept in the dark about the alleged scam.
“Their actions were, without a doubt, insidious, selfish and shameful,” he added.
The scheme’s mastermind, William Rick Singer, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice.
“I am absolutely responsible for it,” Singer, 58, told U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel. “I put everything in place. I put all the people in place and made the payments directly.”
Singer, who operated a for-profit college counseling and preparation business, orchestrated the scheme and helped torpedo it when he agreed to wear a wire and cooperate with investigators, authorities said.
“In retrospect, looking at everything that occurred, he is remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life,” Singer’s lawyer Donald H. Heller said outside the courthouse.
Loughlin, best known for her role in the 1980s-90s sitcom “Full House,” and Huffman, who starred in the 2004-12 ABC hit show “Desperate Housewives,” were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.
Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to bolster their two daughters’ chances of gaining admission to the University of Southern California, court papers say. Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, paid $15,000 to get one of their daughters unlimited time for her SAT test, prosecutors say.
The FBI recorded phone calls involving the celebrities and a cooperating witness, according to the criminal complaint.
Loughlin allegedly told the cooperating witness that she would arrange for one of her daughters to be photographed on a rowing machine to bolster the false claim on the application to USC that her daughter was the crew coxswain for the L.A. Marine Club team, according to court papers.
In an email, Loughlin allegedly agreed to keep the acceptance of her daughter and the scheme “hush hush.”
Loughlin was out of the country for work when FBI agents arrived at her home Tuesday morning. She was scheduled to return to Los Angeles from Canada late Tuesday, and is expected to surrender to federal officials sometime in the next 24 hours, according to law enforcement sources.
In addition to putting up $15,000 to get her daughter more time on the SATs, Huffman also explored a plan to boost the test scores of a second daughter, according to court papers.
In a recorded call Feb. 19, Huffman discussed the possibility of having a ringer take the SAT exam for her daughter, prosecutors say. But she raised concerns about the discrepancy in scores that could result from her daughter taking the SAT test in March but then allowing someone to take it in her place sometime afterward, court papers say.
“I just didn’t know if it’d be odd for [the tutor] if we go, “Oh, she did this in — in March 9, but she did so much better in May,” Huffman allegedly said on the call. “I don’t know if that’d be like — if [the tutor] would be like, ‘Wow.'”
Ultimately, Huffman and her husband decided against it, the court papers say. A representative for Huffman did not immediately return requests for comment. Macy has not been charged.
The plot involved students who attended or were seeking to attend Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, according to federal prosecutors.
Of the 50 people charged so far, […]
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