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story.lead_photo.caption William “Rick” Singer, founder of Edge College & Career Network, leaves a federal courtroom Tuesday in Boston after pleading guilty to charges in a college admissions bribery scandal.

BOSTON -- Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents are accused of bribing 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 were among those 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 center of the scheme -- pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston.

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.

"This story is the proof that there will always be a market for parents who have the resources and are desperate to get their kid one more success," said Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. "This was shopping for name-brand product and being willing to spend whatever it took."

The central figure in the scheme was identified as admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, Calif. He pleaded guilty Tuesday.

Prosecutors said 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 into college. The consultant also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students, and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students' answers.

Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admissions, officials said.

"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.

Several defendants, including Huffman, were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Lelling said the investigation is continuing. The Internal Revenue Service is also investigating, since some parents are accused of disguising the bribes as charitable donations. The colleges themselves are not targets, Lelling said.

Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball took payoffs to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their abilities or experience. Once they were accepted, many of the students didn't play the sports in which they supposedly excelled.

Prosecutors said parents were also instructed to claim that their children had learning disabilities so they could take the ACT or SAT by themselves and get extra time. That made it easier to pull off the tampering, prosecutors said.

A number of colleges moved quickly to distance themselves from the scandal. Stanford fired the sailing coach, and the University of Southern California dropped its water polo coach and an athletic administrator. UCLA suspended its soccer coach, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach.

Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom Full House in the 1980s and '90s.

Loughlin and her husband allegedly gave $500,000 to have their two daughters labeled as recruits to the University of Southern California crew team, even though neither participated in the sport.

Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so her daughter could take part in the college entrance-exam cheating scam.

Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them that he "controlled" a testing center and could have somebody secretly change her daughter's answers. The person told investigators that the couple agreed to the plan.

Macy was not charged.

Sklarow, the independent education consultant, said the scandal "certainly speaks to the fact that the admissions process is broken."

"It's so fraught with anxiety, especially at the elite schools," he said, "that I think it can't be surprising that millionaires who have probably never said no to their kids are trying to play the system in order to get their child accepted."

A Section on 03/13/2019

Print Headline: Rich parents, including 2 Hollywood stars, accused of bribing insiders to get kids admitted to top schools

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  • MaxCady
    March 13, 2019 at 1:31 p.m.

    So once they got in would they have to keep paying people to do their work? You know they couldn't do it on their own.

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