BOSTON (AP) — Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation’s most selective schools.
Federal authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes.
At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields, were charged. Dozens, including Huffman, the Emmy-winning star of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” were arrested by midday.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the results of a fraud and conspiracy investigation code-named Operation Varsity Blues.
The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.
Two more of those charged — Stanford’s sailing coach and the college-admissions consultant at the very center of the scheme — pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston. Others appeared in court and were released on bail.
Huffman appeared in a Los Angeles courthouse where a magistrate judge said she could be released on a $250,000 bond. The actress was also ordered to restrict her travel plans to only the United States.
No students were charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were unaware of what was going on. Several of the colleges involved made no mention of taking any action against the students.
The central figure in the scheme was identified as admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, California. He pleaded guilty, as did Stanford’s John Vandemoer.
Singer’s lawyer, Donald Heller, said his client intends to cooperate fully with prosecutors and is “remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life.”
Prosecutors said that parents paid Singer big money from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes to boost their chances of getting accepted. The consultant also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students, and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students’ answers.
Some parents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and some as much as $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.
Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House” in the 1980s and ’90s. Huffman was nominated for an Oscar for playing a transgender woman in the 2005 movie “Transamerica.” She also starred in the TV show “Sports Night” and appeared in such films as “Reversal of Fortune,” ”Magnolia” and “The Spanish Prisoner.”
Loughlin and her husband allegedly gave $500,000 to have their two daughters labeled as recruits to the USC crew team, even though neither participated in the sport. Their 19-year-old daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli, a social media star with a popular YouTube channel, is now at USC.
Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the entrance-exam cheating scam.
William "Rick" Singer founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, after he pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
In this January 2018 photo, Texas men’s tennis coach Michael Center surveys the courts before the matches with UTSA, in Austin, Texas. Center is among a few people in the state charged in a scheme that involved wealthy parents bribing college coaches and others to gain admissions for their children at top schools, federal prosecutors said Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Texas men's tennis coach Michael Center walks with Defense lawyer Dan Cogdell away from the United States Federal Courthouse in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Center is among a few people in the state charged in a scheme that involved wealthy parents bribing college coaches and others to gain admissions for their children at top schools, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. (Ricardo B. Brazziell