Famous actresses, CEOs among those accused in admissions scam to prestigious colleges

Dozens of celebrities and CEOs, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, have been charged with participating in a college admissions scam to get their children into top U.S. universities, court documents say.

“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said at a press conference Tuesday, CBS News reported. He named admissions consultant William Rick Singer, formerly of Sacramento, California, as a ringleader of the scam.

The FBI and federal prosecutors say parents paid bribes totaling $25 million from 2011 to 2019 to arrange for their children to cheat on entrance exams and win admission on bogus athletic grounds, The Associated Press reported.

What schools are involved?

The plot aimed to fraudulently admit students to schools such as Georgetown University, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Southern California, University of Texas, Wake Forest, and Yale, NBC News reported.

Although some coaches are among the accused, the universities were not involved in the scam, prosecutors say. The students also were not aware their admissions had been compromised.

In the press conference Tuesday, Lelling said that since the scam was ongoing, many of those admitted to universities on fraudulent grounds are likely still attending those schools. He said it would be up to the universities to deal with the issue.

The indictments say coaches at Wake Forest University, Georgetown and USC, among others, took bribes to admit students as athletes, regardless of their actual athletic ability, The Associated Press reported.

Who are some of the parents?

According to the indictments, Loughlin, best known for the sitcom “Full House” on ABC, and her husband “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC,” ABC news reported.

Parents involved in the scam worked with Singer to create impressive, but fake, athletic resumes for their children, including using Photoshop to place their faces on the bodies of athletes, CBS News reported.

Lelling said in the press conference that the bogus athletes either never showed up, quit or faked injuries to escape participating in their supposed sports.

Singer also helped some of the children cheat on college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT tests, NBC News reported.

As reported by The Washington Post, authorities say Huffman paid $15,000 for a “third party to correct her daughter’s answers on the SAT after she took it.” Huffman starred in “Desperate Housewives.”

“Ultimately, Huffman’s daughter received a score of 1420 in the SAT, an improvement of approximately 400 points over her PSAT,” federal officials alleged, according to WCVB.

Other parents paid bribes of up to $6 million for the scam admissions, ABC News reported.

The 50 people charged so far in the scam include Singer, 33 parents, nine coaches and various test proctors and other figures, NBC News reported.

Loughlin and Huffman are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud, the network reported.

“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth, combined with fraud,” Lelling said, NBC News reported. “There can be no separate college admission for wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”

In a statement, the College Board, which administers the SAT test, said the indictments “send a clear message that those who facilitate cheating on the SAT – regardless of their income or status – will be held accountable..”

“We will always take all necessary steps to ensure a level playing field for the overwhelming majority of test takers who are honest and play by the rules,” the statement reads.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.