Watch CBS News

Actresses, CEOs Indicted In Alleged Nationwide Bribery Scheme Linked To USC, UCLA, Ivy League Schools

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among approximately 50 people indicted Tuesday in a widespread and sophisticated college admission bribery scheme in which parents are accused of paying off college coaches and standardized testing administrators millions of dollars in order to get their children into elite universities.

The racketeering conspiracy case includes 33 parents, as well nine coaches from universities that include USC, UCLA, Yale, Stanford and Georgetown. The entire operation was masterminded by William Singer of Newport Beach, authorities said.

Actresses Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman
FILE -- Actress Felicity Huffman (L) attends the Showtime Emmy Eve Nominees Celebration in Los Angeles on Sept. 16, 2018, and actress Lori Loughlin arriving at the People's Choice Awards 2017 at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California, on Jan. 18, 2017. The two are among 50 people indicted in a nationwide university admissions scam, court records unsealed in Boston on March 12, 2019. (Photos by LISA O'CONNOR and Tommaso Boddi/AFP/Getty Images)

Prosecutors said the coaches were bribed to indicate students were being considered as athletic recruits because universities, "typically apply different criteria when evaluating applications from students with demonstrated athletic abilities."

"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said at a Tuesday news conference in Boston. "They include, for example, CEOs of private and public companies, successful securities and real estate investors, two well known actresses, a famous fashion designer, and the co-chairman of a global law firm."

Parents charged in the alleged scheme are accused of paying Singer a total of $25 million between 2011 and February 2019 for the arrangement. Singer used some of that money to bribe test administrators and college coaches. He would hire stand-ins to take SAT and ACT exams for the students, along with proctors to correct wrong answers. He would also create fake athletic profiles to help get students admitted into athletic programs.

Singer, who bills himself as an admissions consultant, is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to charges including racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud.

Lelling said coaches used slots that schools had allocated to them for athletic recruitment, and "worked with Singer, meaning they accepted convince everyone else internally that this was a good person for the team."

Singer's method of cheating on standardized tests was laid out in the indictment's description of his arrangement with Huffman.

MORE: Read The Indictments

Singer advised Huffman, who is married to actor William H. Macy, to arrange for her daughter to be granted extra time for her SAT exam by having her certified as having a learning disability. Prosecutors say Singer then arranged for a specific person to proctor that test and correct the girl's answers. Her daughter received a 1420 on the test.

"Make no mistake, this is not a case where parents were acting in the best interest of their children. This is a case where they flaunted their wealth, sparing no expense to cheat the system so they could set their children up for success with the best education money could buy, literally," said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, FBI special agent in charge of the Boston Field Office.

Macy was seen undergoing a security inspection before entering a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, where his wife, Huffman, appeared on a charge of paying a bribe to secure her daughter's admission to college.

william h macy in courthouse
Actor William H. Macy, husband of Felicity Huffman, undergoing a security check at federal court in downtown Los Angeles. (credit: CBS)

Court documents say Huffman paid $15,000 she disguised as a charitable donation so her daughter could partake in the college entrance cheating scam.

Macy has not been charged; authorities haven't said why. Representatives for Huffman haven't returned a message seeking comment.

Huffman was set to be released on a $250,000 bond. The actress has been ordered to appear in federal court in Boston on March 29.

Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli, the founder of clothing brand Mossimo, "agreed to pay bribes totaling $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," the indictment reads.

Also named in the indictment are current UCLA head men's soccer coach Jorge Salcedo, current head USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic, former head USC women's soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin, former assistant USC soccer coach Jaura Janke and current senior USC Associate Athletic Director Donna Heinel.

UCLA confirmed that Salcedo had been placed on leave.

MORE: Lori Loughlin's Daughter Says 'I Don't Really Care About School'

"The conduct alleged in the filings revealed today is deeply disturbing and in contrast with the expectations we have of our coaches to lead their teams with honesty and integrity," UCLA said in a statement.

UCLA added that none of its current student-athletes "are under suspicion."

Huffman was among 13 people arrested in the L.A. area Tuesday, according to the U.S. attorney's office. An arrest warrant was served at Loughlin's residence Tuesday morning, but she was not home, according to FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller.

USC released a statement Tuesday morning, which read:

"We are aware of the ongoing wide-ranging criminal investigation involving universities nationwide, including USC. USC has not been accused of any wrongdoing and will continue to cooperate fully with the government's investigation.

"We understand that the government believes that illegal activity was carried out by individuals who went to great lengths to conceal their actions from the university. USC is conducting an internal investigation and will take employment actions as appropriate.

"USC is in the process of identifying any funds received by the university in connection with this alleged scheme. Additionally, the university is reviewing its admissions processes broadly to ensure that such actions do not occur going forward."

This is just the latest in a series of scandals which have plagued USC over the past few years.

In January, a former USC men's basketball assistant coach pleaded guilty for his role in a pay-for-play scandal in which schools would funnel money through shoe companies to a player in exchange for their commitment.

In May of 2018, USC revealed that longtime former USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall was being investigated for sexual misconduct. Since then, hundreds of women have come forward over accusing Tyndall of misconduct and alleging the school attempted to cover up his behavior. The scandal prompted USC President Max Nikias to step down.

In August of 2018, USC revealed that it had hired and fired former California Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-West Los Angeles) as a professor. USC asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to conduct a criminal investigation into a recent suspicious $100,000 donation from a campaign fund controlled by his father, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. The 30-year-old Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was hired by USC as a professor despite not having a graduate degree.

In April 2016, Carmen Puliafito stepped down as dean of the USC Keck School of Medicine after it was revealed he had partied with underage girls and provided drugs to his girlfriend, who was a prostitute. The California medical board later ordered Puliafito be stripped of his license to practice medicine.

In November 2016, Dr. Rohit Varma, a noted ophthalmologist, was named dean to replace Puliafito. However, in October 2017, however, he also resigned amid a report that 15-years-prior, USC reached a financial settlement with a female researcher who accused him of sexual harassment.

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.