Tuesday, we were delivered quite a shock. Two very well known actresses, Felicity Huffman (of Desperate Housewives fame) and Lori Loughlin ( Full House's much beloved Aunt Becky) were among a group of parents, college officials and others involved in a scheme to get their kids into college. The parents are being accused of paying upward of $500,000 to buy admission into schools like University of Southern California (USC,) Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest and UCLA. These parents were working with one man who arranged for things like special proctors for the SAT/ACT exams, and listing the prospective students as athletes in sports they didn't play.
And just who was the mastermind behind all of this? His name is Rick Singer. The parents paid him and through the guise of a "charity" he created called Key Worldwide Foundation, he was able to make all the payments. He was charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He pled guilty, admitting:
"I am absolutely responsible for it," he is reported to haves said to a federal judge. "I put everything in place. I put all the people in place and made the payments directly."
Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannuli are being charged with allegedly paying USC about $500,000 for ensure admittance for their two daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella. Both girls were admitted seemingly as recruits for the school's crew team, even though neither of them ride crew. The FBI complaint states that Giannuli sent pictures of the girls on an indoor rowing machine as proof that they were in fact, crew rowers.
Loughlin and Giannuli aren't the only parents who went the sports route. Some went as far as photo altering pictures of the students playing sports — and others going even further by superimposing the student's heads on other athletes bodies.
While not much is known about Isabella, Olivia Jade is very much in the public eye. Okay, technically that's relative. Olivia Jade is a YouTube vlogger and influencer with over one million followers. She actually regularly vlogs about her day to day experiences at USC. But before she even left to attend the school, she shared that she wasn't very interested in attending college. She admitted that she was more interested in going to games and partying than going to class. According to Buzzfeed, she recently admitted in an interview that she was only attending college because, "Mostly, my parents really wanted me to go because both them didn't go to college."
Aside from sports, the big part of the scheme was falsifying students' SAT and ACT exams. Basically, that meant taking the tests in a controlled space where the test proctor was involved in the scheme. Families were paying test officials and proctors to offer the students additional time to take the test. Some were paying to get their kids answers to the test while they were taking it. And others were paying for the proctors to go over the tests after students handed them in and make any corrections they could.
"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected," US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said, speaking to Buzzfeed.
Some parents will stop at nothing to ensure that their already privileged kids get more advantages than they deserve. Paying for others to take their entrance exams is extreme, but parents pay for tutors to maximize how well students will do on these tests. And parents will also pay people to help their children with their college applications, including lots of help writing their application essays.
Felicity Huffman is being charged with paying $15,000 to have her oldest daughter's entrance test altered. Apparently she grew a conscience and after initially inquiring about doing it for her younger daughter, opted out. According to the papers filed, Huffman paid for her daughter to take the test in a controlled space with a special proctor to ensure that the test could be altered. This meant that she had to get around her daughter's school, which wanted the girl to take the test there.
Approximately $25 million was paid out to the coaches and administrators between 2011 and 2018.
FBI agents in Hawaii arrested USC's famed water polo coach, Jovan Vavic in relation to this scheme. He was then fired. Donna Heinel, the senior athletic director was also fired after it was discovered they took $1.3 million in bribes over the years.
Huffman was released on a $250,000 bond after appearing in federal court in Los Angeles. Loughlin is also slated to appear in Los Angeles court soon. Huffman isn't allowed to travel outside the continental U.S. until she appears in court in Boston for a hearing.
USC, the school that seems to be the most deeply involved, is now going back and reviewing current and former students who may have been involved in the scheme.
"We will make informed, appropriate decisions once those reviews have been completed," Leigh Hopper, a USC spokesperson, said in a statement to Buzzfeed. UCLA released a similar statement.
It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out, and if schools will be paying more attention to student's applications going forward.