When news of the college admissions scandal broke, people were distracted (and somewhat entertained) but some of the big names that were involved. Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were both arrested and charged in federal court with several serious crimes, including mail fraud. We see celebrity names and we sort of focus on that, which is understandable in this celeb-driven society! But if you look past the sensational tabloid aspect of it, the scandal has rocked the higher education industry and highlighted some very uncomfortable truths about privilege and income equality in this country.
The fallout from the scandal continues, with many of the parents, coaches, and administrators charged pleading guilty and accepting their fates. Huffman took responsibility for her role in the scandal, pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, while Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli are taking their chances at trial with not guilty pleas. But many who've followed the scandal still have a lot of questions. Who knew about what was going? Who didn't? And why on earth did so many of the students of the accused end up at the University of Southern California?
Who knew what?
It's hard to imagine that no one knew what was going on, or that they didn't know what they were doing was a crime. Interestingly, that's exactly the defense Loughlin and Giannulli plan on using - that they didn't know what they were doing was illegal. No students have been charged as of yet. In the case of Loughlin and Giannulli's daughters Olivia Jade and Isabella, both girls were admitted to USC as crew recruits, despite the fact that neither of them had ever rowed. They even posed for photos with crew equipment to submit with their applications, so we can safely assume that they at least had an inkling of what was going on (it's being reported that one of the girls is under federal investigation).
But they weren't the only kids involved. Atherton financier Manuel Henriquez and his wife, Elizabeth got their older daughter into Georgetown as a tennis recruit, and the young woman allegedly gloated about being given the answers to her SAT exam. Her younger sister may also have been given the answers to the ACT and SAT exams. The older daughter is still a student at Georgetown.
Miami investor Robert Zangrillo's daughter apparently participated in a phone call between her father and William "Rick" Singer, the mastermind behind the entire scheme. She was trying to gain entrance into USC as a fake crew recruit. And Hillsborough developer Bruce Isackson and his wife, Davina copied their daughter on an email chain in which Davina thanked Singer for his creativity in getting their daughter into UCLA as a soccer recruit. The Isacksons' other daughter was copied on a similar email chain with Singer, about getting her into USC as a crew recruit.
Who didn't know?
Some parents did a better job of shielding their kids from the crimes being committed to get them into the schools of their choice. Todd and Diane Blake used Singer to get their daughter into USC as a volleyball recruit. In a recorded phone conversation, Diane can be heard telling Singer that her daughter "doesn't even know, you know?" Connecticut lawyer Gordon Caplan was assured by Singer that his daughter would never know he hired him to boost her ACT scores.
USC dentistry professor Homayoun Zadeh told Singer via text that his daughter was concerned about "getting in on her own merits". Zadeh continued, "I have not shared anything about our arrangement, but she somehow senses it."
Another accused parent, Las Vegas media mogul Elisabeth Kimmel, told Singer in July 2018 that her son had no idea he was fraudulently admitted to USC as a pole vaulter, or that his application used a photo from another student athlete.
Who is pleading guilty?
So far, thirteen parents have accepted plea deals with federal prosecutors, including Huffman and the Isacksons. More parents are expected to accept plea deals as the cases move forward, and federal prosecutors seem ready to throw the book at those who choose to take their chances. After rejecting a plea deal, Loughlin, Giannulli, and 15 other parents were hit with additional charges, including money laundering. Some of the students whose parents were involved have dropped out of the schools they were fraudulently admitted to, while others are still enrolled. Several universities have rescinded offers of acceptance for other students involved.
What is it about USC and the college admissions scandal?
Rick Singer was based in Southern California, and many of the students involved were given admission to USC based on his and their parents' fraud. Additionally, USC had more employees and administrators involved in the in the scandal than some of the other schools. In its defense, USC has said the school was the victim of "fraudulent applications in which students’ academic and athletic ability were intentionally misrepresented to the university for the sole purpose of bypassing USC’s rigorous admissions process." But an editorial in the school newspaper places the blame squarely the school's shoulders, saying a serious lack of oversight and accountability allowed the fraud to take place.