Date
20 September 2019
William "Rick" Singer leaves the federal courthouse after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston, Massachusetts, on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters
William "Rick" Singer leaves the federal courthouse after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston, Massachusetts, on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

Hollywood actors, CEOs charged in US college admissions scandal

Federal authorities arrested dozens of people in what they described as a US$25 million scam to help actors Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, some CEOs and other wealthy Americans commit fraud to get their children into elite universities, such as Yale and Stanford.

The most sweeping college admissions scheme ever unearthed in the United States was masterminded at a small college-preparation company based in Newport Beach, California, prosecutors said.

It relied on bribes to coaches, phony test takers and even doctored photos misrepresenting non-athletic applicants as elite competitors to gain admissions for the offspring of rich parents.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Andrew Lelling, the US attorney in Boston, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.”

William “Rick” Singer, 58, pleaded guilty to charges related to running the scheme through his Edge College & Career Network, which charged from US$100,000 to as much as US$2.5 million per child for the services, which were masked as contributions to a scam charity Singer runs.

“I was essentially buying or bribing the coaches for a spot,” Singer said as he pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. “And that occurred very frequently.”

John Vandemoor, a former Stanford University sailing coach who worked with Singer, also pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

Huffman, who appeared in television drama Desperate Housewives, and Full House sitcom actor Loughlin were charged on Tuesday and due to enter pleas in a Los Angeles court, prosecutors said.

It was the latest in a series of scandals that have rocked the high-stakes, high-stress world of admissions to top colleges.

Prosecutors in Boston in recent years have also charged Chinese nationals with cheating on entrance exams, while the College Board, which administers the SAT tests, was rocked in 2016 by a security breach that exposed hundreds of questions planned for tests.

Some 300 law enforcement agents swept across the country to make arrests in what agents code-named “Operation Varsity Blues.” 

Prosecutors have so far named 33 parents, 13 coaches and associates of Singer’s business.

Other parents charged include Manuel Henriquez, the chief executive of specialty finance lender Hercules Capital; Gordon Caplan, the co-chairman of international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher; Bill McGlashan Jr., who heads a buyout investment arm of private equity firm TPG Capital; and Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of the investment management firm Pimco.

The alleged masterminds of scam and parents who paid into it could all face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

‘Help the wealthiest’

On a call with a wealthy parent, prosecutors said, Singer summed up his business: “What we do is help the wealthiest families in the US get their kids into school.”

Prosecutors said it was up to the universities what to do with students admitted through cheating.

The scheme began in 2011 and also helped children get into the University of Texas, Georgetown University, Wake Forest University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), prosecutors said.

Part of the scheme involved advising parents to lie to test administrators that their child had learning disabilities that allowed them extra exam time.

The parents were then advised to choose one of two test centers that Singer’s company said it had control over: one in Houston, Texas, and the other in West Hollywood, California.

Test administrators in those centers took bribes of tens of thousands of dollars to allow Singer’s clients to cheat, often by arranging to have wrong answers corrected or having another person take the exam.

Singer would agree with parents beforehand roughly what score they wanted the child to get.

In many cases, the students were not aware that their parents had arranged for the cheating, prosecutors said, although in other cases they knowingly took part. None of the children were charged on Tuesday.

Singer also helped parents stage photographs of their children playing sports or even Photoshopped children’s faces onto images of athletes downloaded from the internet to exaggerate their athletic credentials. Reuters

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