The nation’s largest college admissions scam prosecution


ABC News

William "Rick" Singer leaving Boston federal court on March 12.

Federal prosecutors charged 50 people on Tuesday, March 12, with taking part in a college admissions scheme to ensure the acceptance of their kids into highly competitive American schools. The FBI investigation, known as Operation Varsity Blues, has focused on 33 indicted parents; actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman being among them.

The main curator of the scandal was William Rick Singer, CEO of college admissions prep company Edge College & Career Network, or The Key. Singer has made $25 million since 2011 by bribing college coaches, standardized test proctors and university administrators to fabricate SAT and ACT scores of students as well as create false athletic profiles. In one case parents paid $1.2 million to fake their daughter’s athletic credentials to get into Yale University, along with Singer bribing the soccer coach for at least $400,000. According to prosecutor Eric S. Rosen, Singer sometimes also falsified students’ ethnicities to take advantage of affirmative action. Singer also instructed a parent to claim their child had a learning disability to allow for more time to cheat the test results, according to court documents.

He pleaded guilty in federal court on March 12 to the counts of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice, according to the New York Times. His sentencing is set for June 19, and he was released on a $500,000 bond.

Others charged with the scheme include University of Southern California senior athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic, Stanford University head sailing coach John Vandemoer, Wake Forest University head volleyball coach Bill Ferguson, University of Texas men’s tennis coach Michael Center, former Georgetown University tennis coach Gordon Ernst, former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudolph Meredith and University of California, Los Angeles men’s soccer head coach Jorge Salcedo.

Some parents paid Singer between $15,000 and $75,000 for their child to take the SAT or ACT and have their answers corrected afterward by a proctor or even have a third-party take the test for them. Prosecutors have said some students were unaware their parents were manipulating their scores and applications. Test administrators Igor Dvorskiy in Los Angeles and Lisa “Niki” Williams in Houston are both accused of accepting bribes and are charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering.

“Singer disguised bribe payments as charitable contributions to the Key Worldwide Foundation,” according to CNN.

Actress Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid bribes totaling $500,000 to have their two daughters accepted as recruits on University of Southern California’s crew team, even though neither daughter ever competed in the sport. Loughlin and her husband face charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. She was taken into custody Wednesday morning, March 13, in Los Angeles, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller, and released on a $1 million bail. Giannulli was arrested and posted a $1 million bond on Tuesday, March 12.

Universities are still reviewing the case before deciding what to do with the accepted students involved in the scheme.

“USC is in the process of identifying any funds received by the university in connection with this alleged scheme,” the university said in a statement. “Additionally, the university is reviewing its admissions processes broadly to ensure that such actions do not occur going forward.”

The investigation is ongoing, and it is currently unknown if prosecutors will charge any students. Regardless if the kids were aware or not of the scheme their parents included them in, people nationwide are outraged that this scandal denied acceptances to less privileged and harder working students.

“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said.