College Crimes: The Rich and Famous

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College Crimes: The Rich and Famous

Emily Dozier, Staff Writer

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Using money to bribe your way into college is nothing new; wealthy families have been using this tactic for decades. So it comes as no shock when Hollywood’s favorite mothers find themselves in the middle of this crime. Among the 50 individuals being charged throughout the scheme, Lori Loughlin of “Full House” and Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” storm the media. Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have been indicted, while Huffman has been accused without husband William H. Macy. Loughlin, Giannulli, and Huffman have been arrested, but released on bail.

Operation Varsity Blues

The 50 individuals accused in this investigation, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, were admitted to colleges, despite fraud, through William Rick Singer, a conman from Los Angeles. Singer established the Key Worldwide Foundation in 2011, claiming to give disadvantaged families the tools they need to attend elite colleges. In reality, “what we do is we help the wealthiest families in the US get their kids into school,” Singer once told a parent he was helping. The Foundation calls it affirmative action for the rich; parents pay anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to the organization. With the help of Singer, some parents made it appear as though their child was an athlete, even if they were not, by copying the child’s face onto another athlete in photos and videos. College coaches assisted in this illusion, claiming the students were athletes in order to guarantee an acceptance. Other families used standardized testing rather than sports to scandal their way into elite college acceptances. They could make a donation to the “charity” to have SAT or ACT answer documents altered or even have a professional take the test for the student. Singer told some families they would get more time to complete the test by getting a doctor’s note and claiming a learning disability. The scandal has been happening for eight years, with over 850 students lying and bribing into elite universities. However, not all children were aware of their parents’ actions, and many have now spoken out, claiming they were just as in the dark about the fraud.

The Parents

While 33 Hollywood parents were found to be part of this crime, Loughlin/Giannulli and Huffman remain in headlines. Loughlin and Giannulli were both arrested, after being found to have paid $200,000 for their two daughters to appear as if they were recruited to USC to be on crew, despite never participating in the sport. Younger daughter, Olivia, recently faced backlash after posting a video on her YouTube saying she is only at college for the social aspects and does not care for school. She has since lost her partnership with Sephora, while her and sister Bella have dropped out of USC. Huffman was arrested on charges that she paid $15,000 to the Key Foundation to have answers changed on her eldest daughter’s SAT exam. The girl’s score was thus raised 400 points-enough to seem smart, but not too much as to draw attention. Her husband William H. Macy was not indicted for this crime. Loughlin, Giannulli, and Huffman were all overheard by the FBI discussing the scheme with Singer. The three parents have now been arrested under the charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. The children are not going to be charged, but may face dire consequences down the road.

Colleges and Coaches

Of the 50 currently charged in the investigation, nine are coaches of elite universities, such as USC, UCLA, Stanford, Yale, and Georgetown. Unsurprisingly, the University of Southern California has the most athletic ties to the scheme. Donna Heinel, senior associate athletic director, was bribed multiple times into accepting these wealthy students as recruits, sometimes placing them on scholarships. Along with Heinel, water polo coach Jovan Vavic has since been fired. The former head and assistant coaches of USC women’s soccer have also been indicted on charges of racketeering. Wake Forest women’s volleyball coach, Bill Ferguson, has been placed on administrative leave while investigators look into the matter. Ferguson was fired in 2015 as head coach of the men’s volleyball team at USC, where he worked for nine years. Other coaches placed on administrative leave include the Texas men’s tennis coach and Stanford’s head sailing coach. John Vandemoer of Stanford said he did not keep the money used to bribe him, but bought new materials for the sailing team with it. Admissions representatives at these schools are allegedly unaware of the scam that occurred and intend to deal with students who have been unfairly enrolled. Attorney Andrew Lelling adds, “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.”

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