Early last week, 50 people were charged in what federal prosecutors have said is the largest college admissions cheating scheme ever prosecuted. The 50 defendants, of which include two SAT/ACT administrators, an exam proctor, nine coaches, one college administrator, and 33 parents are accused of using illegally funneled funds to gain admission to certain universities. Two of those parents include Hollywood stars Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.
The scheme itself is not complicated. The central figure is William Rick Singer, who arranged for students to cheat on standardized tests, bribed sports coaches for team spots, and disguised illegal payments as charitable donations.
Singer arranged for third parties (including Mark Riddell, who has been charged with two counts of conspiracy) to take the SAT or ACT in the students' place, or replace their responses with his own. Singer bribed test administrators to allow Riddell to take the tests undetected. Igor Dvorskiy and Niki Williams, who administered SAT and ACT tests in Los Angeles and Houston, respectively, have been charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering. The indictment claims parents who hired Singer would pay between $15,000 and $75,000 per test.
Felicity Huffman, an Academy Award nominee best known for her role on the television series Desperate Housewives is accused of paying $15,000 to Singer's "charity" Key Worldwide Foundation to rig her daughter's SAT score. According to a cooperating witness, he traveled from Tampa, Florida to a California test center to personally administer Huffman's daughter's exam. She received a 1420, 400 points higher than her PSAT scores a year earlier. Huffman allegedly discussed the scheme in a recorded phone call with Singer.
Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on Full House, and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli allegedly partook in Singer's conspiracy to secure admission for their two daughters to USC. The couple allegedly paid bribes totaling $500,000 to have their daughters, Olivia Jade Giannulli and Bella Giannulli designated as recruits to USC's crew team. Neither girl presently or has ever rowed competitively or otherwise participated in crew.
The parents sent Singer photos of their daughters on a rowing machine, which was allegedly photoshopped to show evidence of the girls' crew abilities. Singer provided bribes to senior associate athletic director at USC Donna Heinel, who obtained admission for both as athletes. USC has since terminated Heinel in light of the accusations.
Giannulli was arrested at his home in Los Angeles. The FBI served a warrant for Louglin, who wasn't home at the time but later surrendered. Giannulli and Loughlin were released on bail, and are expected back in court later this month in Boston.
Both of Loughlin's daughters have left USC with no plans to return. Olivia Jade, who had a lucrative partnership with Sephora, has been dropped by the beauty corporation. Loughlin, who has guest-starred on the Full House revival Fuller House will not come back for future seasons, according to Netflix.
The investigation, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues," involves highly selective universities including USC, UCLA, Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, and others. A California mother has filed a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against Loughlin and others after her son was rejected from several elite schools. It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the investigation will have on the admission process.
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