Dozens Indicted in College Admissions Bribery Case

FBI alleges rich parents, celebs bribed their children’s way into top colleges

A bribery chain that involved college testing, admissions and coaches speaks to the insane arms race in this country to get teens into elite universities. 

Among the rich parents charged today in this byzantine fraud are actors Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” fame and Lori Loughlin of “Full House.”

(You can see the indictments, complaints and the list of the 50 people across six states who were charged here.)

Between 2011 and last month, the FBI contends affluent parents desperate to get their children into big-name campuses paid $25 million to William Rick Singer, the founder of a for-profit college preparation business in Newport Beach, California. 

To enhance the teens’ chances, Singer faked academic and athletic credentials, assisted in his efforts by college coaches. He even faked photos of the teens playing sports. 

» Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin among several charged in nationwide college admission cheating scam

Also, part of the scam was the Key Worldwide Foundation, a supposed nonprofit that was really a clandestine bribery operation to help kids into colleges for which they were not academically qualified, according to the Justice Department.

The Justice Department said: "Singer owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network LLC ('The Key') – a for-profit college counseling and preparation business – and served as the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF) – a non-profit corporation that he established as a purported charity.”

You can expect a lot of the involved colleges to start announcing their own investigations. I am not surprised wealthy parents are willing to use their fortunes for their children’s advantage-- that is often why people give generous donations to colleges. They want more than their name on a science building or hospital wing. 

However, I’m surprised so many college employees were willing to jeopardize their careers and now possibly their freedom to accommodate these super rich parents. Ten former or current college coaches from some of the nation's most prestigious campuses now face charges. 

At a press conference this morning in Boston, the Justice Department said the bribes made it possible for SAT and ACT scores of rich kids to be raised and their admissions into elite schools eased by coaches paid to claim they were recruited athletes. For the fabricated credentials and bribes, parents forked over between between $200,000 and $6.5 million to Singer’s elaborate operation.

Among the campuses involved: Yale University, Wake Forest, Georgetown, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and UCLA.

The deceptions were extensive and complex, beginning with SAT and ACT testing. In some cases, other people took the tests for the students. Or the rich kids were given the answers beforehand or had their wrong answers changed. 

In what seems a remarkable feat to pull off, college coaches agreed for a price to categorize the students as sought-after water polo or soccer players, which entitled them to priority admissions. (The indictment notes recruited athletes can have much lower test scores than non-athletes.)

These deceptions did not come cheap. The indictment says parents paid between $15,000 and $75,000 for higher test scores. Parents were also told to seek extended testing time for their kids by having them identified by a therapist as having a learning disability — something that teachers say they are seeing more of in general.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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