United States government lawyers called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.
On March 12, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announced that 50 people across the country had been charged in a $25-million plot to reportedly buy admission into top American colleges. Lelling said the plot was set up to guarantee admissions to top colleges for students, in his words, “not on their merits, but through fraud.”
The colleges included top schools like Yale, Stanford and Georgetown. Others were Wake Forest, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California at Los Angeles and many more.
Lelling said the colleges themselves were not directly involved in the plot, however.
The plot included cheating on college entrance exam, creating false athletic and school successes, and hiding payment as charitable donations to avoid paying taxes.
The U.S. attorney named William “Rick” Singer as the organizer of the plot. Singer reportedly did so using his business, Edge College & Career Network, and an organization called The Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF).
Singer agreed to cooperate with the investigation in September 2018. He admitted guilt to the charges on the day of Lelling’s announcement.
The charging documents say Singer advised parents to seek more time for their children by claiming they had learning disabilities. Singer also paid test administrators to permit another person to help the students with answers or take the test for them. The parents charged in the plot reportedly paid Singer between $15,000 and $75,000 for such services. Their payments were listed as donations to KWF.
American actor Felicity Huffman was among the parents charged. Her daughter received extra time to take the SAT. Her test score increased by 400 points from her first time taking it because a test administrator working with Singer changed Huffman’s daughter’s answers for her.
Gordon Ernst, the head coach for tennis at Georgetown University, also was charged. Between 2012 and 2018, the U.S. attorney said Ernst received $2.7 million to name 12 students as recruits for the tennis team. The money sent from KWF was called a “consulting” fee.
In January 2018, Singer reportedly paid the head coach of Yale’s women’s soccer team $400,000 to accept a student who did not even play the sport competitively. That coach is Rudolph Meredith. The student’s family reportedly then paid Singer $1.2 million for the service.
American actor Lori Loughlin and her husband, clothing designer Mossimo Giannulli, paid $500,000 to have their two daughters admitted to University of Southern California (USC) as recruits for the crew team. Yet neither of the two girls were even rowers.
Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of the well-known international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, reportedly paid Singer $75,000 to help raise his daughter’s test scores. In a phone call, Singer told Caplan, “What we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school…There is a front door which means you get in on your own. The back door is through institutional advancement, which is 10 times as much money. And I’ve created this side door in.”
Nick Smith is a professor at the University of New Hampshire. He told the Associated Press, “I don’t think anyone is shocked that children of the wealthy have an easier time getting into top schools.”
But Smith added, “What is new here is that all of those considerable advantages apparently aren’t enough for some, and they will go to any length to directly buy their way in.”
Several students have filed a lawsuit against Yale, Georgetown, Stanford and other schools involved in the case. They said they and others had been denied a fair chance at admission.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, said, “Each of the universities took the students’ admission application fees while failing to take adequate steps to ensure that their admissions process was fair and free of fraud, bribery, cheating and dishonesty.”
Colleges quickly moved to dismiss or suspend any coaches and test administrators named in the charging documents.
Georgetown officials said Ernst left in December 2017 after the college found that he had violated admissions rules. The school said it was now looking at the tennis team to review its recruits.
USC officials said the college is looking at “current students and graduates that may be connected to the scheme alleged by the government.”
And, Yale said the university was “the victim of a crime.”
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