LOS ANGELES _ Federal prosecutors on Tuesday indicted dozens of people _ including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin _ in connection with an elaborate scheme aimed at getting students into elite colleges.
The scheme centered around the owner of a for-profit Newport Beach, Calif., college admissions company that wealthy parents paid to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and falsify athletic records of students to enable them to secure admission to elite schools including UCLA, USC, Stanford, Yale and Georgetown, according to court records. Some parents participated in one aspect of the scheme, while others paid for both, authorities said.
William Rick Singer, who owns the admissions company Edge College & Career Network, was charged with money laundering, obstruction of justice, racketeering and conspiracy to defraud the United States. He is expected to plead guilty in Boston Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.
The scheme, which began in 2011, is the largest college admissions scam that’s ever been prosecuted, Lelling said.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” he said, noting that actresses, a fashion designer, CEOs and even the head of a global law firm allegedly participated. He said they “knowingly conspired … to help their children cheat or buy their children admission to elite schools through fraud.”
Prosecutors allege Singer instructed parents to donate funds to a fake charity he had established as part of the scheme. Most of the parents paid at least $200,000, but some paid millions. The parents were then able to deduct the donation off their income taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
With those funds, prosecutors allege, Singer bribed college entrance exam administrators to allow a third party to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams, in some cases by posing as the actual students, and in others by providing students with answers during the exams or by correcting their answers after they had completed the exams.
He also allegedly used his connections to bribe university athletic coaches and administrators to designate applicants as athletic recruits regardless of their athletic abilities and, in some cases, even though they didn’t play the sport. In some instances, Singer helped parents images of their children onto the bodies of athletes to provide to coaches to further the scheme, prosecutors said.
Coaches and private admissions counselors allegedly received money for helping to get students admitted as athletes to Yale, Stanford and University of Southern California.
Huffman is in custody in Los Angeles, along with 11 others. Loughlin has not been arrested, but she’s being sought by authorities, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
Loughlin, of “Full House” fame, and Huffman, whose credits include the hit ABC show “Desperate Housewives,” are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud. According to court records, Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, the creator 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” even though they did not participate in crew.
Huffman is accused of disguising a $15,000 charitable payment in the bribery scheme, according to court records. Prosecutors allege Huffman met with a confidential witness who explained that he could control an SAT testing center and could arrange for someone to proctor her daughter’s test and correct it.
Huffman’s daughter allegedly took the test in December 2017 and received a score of 1420. That was a 400-point improvement from her first test. In October 2018, Huffman was recorded by the FBI discussing this scheme for her younger daughter; however, she did not ultimately pursue it.
-By Hannah Fry and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times