Parents accused in college admission scams could face "serious time" in prison

Legal fallout in huge college admissions scam

Last Updated Mar 13, 2019 7:08 PM EDT

Celebrities and business leaders, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, are among 50 people who face criminal charges in a massive college admissions scam that was revealed on Tuesday. More arrests could come in the weeks and months ahead. Prosecutors say some of them paid millions to get their children into elite schools like Yale, Stanford and the University of Southern California.

CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman told "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday these parents could be facing "serious time" in prison.

"We're dealing with mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit these crimes. And what you have here are two schemes. You have the cheating that is the test taking or the paying for others to take the tests, the scoring of the tests. And then you have the one that's really complicated which is showing that your children are athletes when they're not so that they get in as they put it through a side door," Klieman said. "People are so angry all over the country about this case. So the parents need to be punished severely in order for there to be deterrents."

William Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday to running the biggest college admissions scam federal prosecutors have ever seen. They say he became a cooperating witness turning in A-list clients. According to court documents, Singer was the CEO of a college prep company in California.

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The company would not only help doctor SAT and ACT tests it would also create the false impression the students were elite athletes by bribing coaches and creating fake athletic credentials complete with altered photos for kids. Some of the students didn't even play the sports for which they were recruited.

"Some of the kids really didn't know. But you also have to believe that some of the kids did know. And so are they going to be criminally prosecuted? Possibly, but highly unlikely. So what happens to them in college? If they're in college now, isn't the remedy with the college, does the college expel them? How about the people who already got degrees? Does the college then decide to rescind those degrees? Then it spins on to employment. You know, because everything has been falsified since the beginning. These parents did their children no favors."

Klieman added that she doesn't think the accused parents will be able to throw money at the problem like they allegedly did to get their kids into college.

"No one's getting out of this," she said. "There's too much attention put to it. It's one thing to buy your way in to education for your children, which I find appalling and disgusting, frankly, but it's another thing at this stage to just think you can buy a fancy lawyer and get out of this. These parents probably had no thought that at some point they would go to prison."

Bari Norman was an admissions officer at Barnard College and is now the co-founder and director of counseling at Expert Admissions, a service that helps students get into college. She said although she was never approached as an admissions officer, parents have asked her as a high school counselor whether she can guarantee their entrance into an elite school.  

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"This skirted the entire system. We know that development and advancement offices exist for the purposes of making a campus better, enriching the academic experience. This was an entirely different thing," Norman said.

"I have had people approach me when I've been on this high school side to say 'Hey if I offer you this amount of money, can you guarantee that my child will get into this school or an Ivy League university.' The answer is, of course, no. There are no guarantees that I can make and neither could anyone actually," she said.

"This really speaks more so to how high-stakes college admissions has become, what a status symbol it's become that even celebrities feel that it is not enough."