Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were among 50 people indicted Tuesday in a widespread college admission bribery scandal. The racketeering conspiracy case includes the parents of applicants, ACT and SAT administrators, a test proctor and coaches at universities including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, University of Southern California, UCLA and the University of Texas at Austin.
Prosecutors said parents paid a college test prep organization to help students cheat, either by having stand-ins take the tests for the teenagers, or by arranging for proctors to correct answers. College coaches were also allegedly bribed to label applicants as athletic recruits.
Parents charged in the alleged scheme are accused of paying an admissions consultant, William Singer, a total of $25 million between 2011 and February 2019 for the arrangement. Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said at a press conference Tuesday that Singer used some of that money to bribe test administrators and college coaches.
The FBI investigation into the alleged scheme was nicknamed "Operation Varsity Blues."
A total of 33 parents were charged.
"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," Lelling said.
Singer is also accused of arranging for students to cheat on the SAT and ACT. The method of cheating was laid out in the indictment's description of his arrangement with Huffman.
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 said 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.
Huffman was taken into custody early Tuesday morning. A Los Angeles judge said Tuesday afternoon she could be released on $250,000 bond. The judge ordered her to appear in federal court in Boston on March 29
Macy was seen going to the courtroom ahead of the hearing.
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," according to prosecutors.
Lelling said coaches used slots that schools had allocated to them for athletic recruitment, and "worked with Singer, meaning they accepted bribes ... to convince everyone else internally that this was a good person for the team."
"Singer worked with the parents to fabricate impressive athletic profiles for their kids," Lelling said, adding that in some cases students faces were placed, using the image editing program Photoshop, onto the bodies of athletes.
Singer entered a guilty plea to racketeering and other charges Tuesday in federal court.
Huffman was arrested Tuesday morning. Loughlin had not yet been arrested as of early Tuesday afternoon.
Huffman starred in ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2005 film Transamerica. Loughlin appeared in the ABC sitcom "Full House."
Statements and response to the alleged scheme
Several of the universities tied to the admissions bribery scheme have issued statements on how they are cooperating with the investigation.
"As the indictment makes clear, the Department of Justice believes that Yale has been the victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women's soccer coach," the school said. "The university has cooperated fully in the investigation and will continue to cooperate as the case moves forward."
"The federal government has alleged that USC is a victim in a scheme perpetrated against the university by a long-time Athletics Department employee, one current coach and three former coaching staff, who were allegedly involved in a college admissions scheme and have been charged by the government on multiple charges," the school said in an email to the campus community. "We will be implementing significant process and training enhancements to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. USC has not been accused of any wrongdoing and will continue to cooperate fully with the government's investigation."
"The U.S. Department of Justice announced this morning a criminal case naming UCLA Men's Soccer head coach Jorge Salcedo as a defendant, and notified UCLA that it is a potential victim of a fraudulent scheme," the university said. "Coach Salcedo has been placed on leave and will have no involvement with the soccer team while this matter is under review. 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. If the facts alleged are true, they represent a grave departure from the ethical standards we set for ourselves and the people who work here."
"Stanford has been cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation and is deeply concerned by the allegations in this case," according to its statement. "The university and its athletics programs have the highest expectations of integrity and ethical conduct. The head coach of the Stanford sailing team has been terminated. The charges state that sailing head coach John Vandemoer accepted financial contributions to the sailing program from an intermediary in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission to Stanford. Neither student came to Stanford. However, the alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford's values."
Georgetown University sent an email to the campus community, which reads in part:
"Earlier today, we were deeply troubled to learn that former Tennis Coach, Gordon Ernst, is alleged to have committed criminal acts against the University that constitute an unprecedented breach of trust ... Mr. Ernst has not coached our tennis team since December 2017, when he was placed on leave after the Office of Undergraduate Admissions identified irregularities in his recruitment practices and the University initiated an internal investigation. The investigation found that Mr. Ernst had violated University rules concerning admissions, and he separated from the University in 2018. The University was not aware of any alleged criminal activity or acceptance of bribes by Mr. Ernst until it was later contacted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, with whom we fully cooperated in its investigation. Mr. Ernst's alleged actions are shocking, highly antithetical to our values, and violate numerous University policies and ethical standards. Now that the government's investigation has detailed the extent of the alleged fraud, we are reviewing the details of the indictment and will be taking appropriate action. We have no indication that any other Georgetown employees were involved."
The National Collegiate Athletic Association said, "The charges brought forth today are troubling and should be a concern for all of higher education. We are looking into these allegations to determine the extent to which NCAA rules may have been violated."
The College Board also issued a statement:
"Today's arrests resulting from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts send a clear message that those who facilitate cheating on the SAT — regardless of their income or status — will be held accountable. The College Board has a comprehensive, robust approach to combat cheating, and we work closely with law enforcement as part of those efforts. We will always take all necessary steps to ensure a level playing field for the overwhelming majority of test takers who are honest and play by the rules."
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