How the College Admissions Scandal Is Different From the Other Ways Rich Parents Help Their Kids Get Into School
- On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, the Federal government indicted William Singer, a college admissions consultant based out of Newport Beach, California, and 33 other parents including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, for crimes that included bribery and racketeering for purpose of fraudulently getting children into college.
- While there is a culture of paying one’s way into an upper echelon school that is quite pervasive, the Varsity Blues bribery scheme explicitly sought to find spaces for the children in exchange for money, via Singer as
- William Singer pleaded guilty in a federal court on Tuesday, March 12, while Felicity Huffman was indicted that same day. Lori Loughlin turned herself
in tofederal authorities on Wednesday, March 13.
Last August, YouTuber Olivia Jade posted a video for her 1.9 million subscribers. She was moving into her college dorm that day at the University of Southern California, but Olivia reminded her viewers that YouTube was her real passion: “I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”
Olivia Jade established a significant following online. Fans regularly asked her about her famous parents, actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli. Over the past few years, Olivia documented her daily style routines, answered fan questions, nabbed sponsorships from beauty and retail brands, and peppered in videos featuring Loughlin and her Full House co-star John Stamos. This pattern continued once she started at USC, but according to federal prosecutors, there was a seedy backstory to how the young influencer was accepted to that elite university.
Loughlin, pictured here, turned herself
in to federal authorities on charges related to the college admissions scandal on Wednesday, March 13.
Loughlin and Giannulli connected with William "Rick" Singer, a college admissions consultant based in Newport Beach, California. Singer promised to secure admission to USC for their daughters as recruits for the university’s crew team, even though neither participated in the sport, according to prosecutors. Singer would arrange fake athletic profiles for the girls, the feds say, and Loughlin and Giannulli just needed to send him pictures of their daughters using ergometers.
The parents had to send $200,000 to Singer through the Key Worldwide Foundation, a non-profit he controlled, for each daughter, plus $50,000 per kid to USC senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel.
The famous couple
Actress Felicity Huffman inside a federal courthouse in Los Angeles on March 12, 2019. She was one of d
ozens of people charged in a massive college admissions cheating scandal; a federal judge set her bond at $250,000.
“We’re not talking about donating a building so that a school is more likely to take your son or daughter,” Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said at press conference on Tuesday. “We’re talking about deception and fraud.”
HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM THE USUAL WAYS WEALTHY PARENTS HELP THEIR KIDS GET INTO COLLEGE?
William Singer leaving a federal courthouse in Boston on March 12, 2019, where he was indicted on charges of fraud and bribery.
“Many people believe that there is often an unspoken quid pro quo with respect to big donors and family members and we’ve seen instances where that appears to be true,” said Theodore Shaw, a former director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “This is quite clear quid pro quo, and doesn’t sound like there is much doubt.”
Neither one of them may be commendable but it seems to me there is a difference between a bribe and a hope.
Wealthy families often donate to colleges with the hope, or expectation, that it’ll get their kids a leg up in the admissions process. The recent affirmative action trial involving Harvard put this on display. Documents in the trial revealed how deans celebrated that because of who the university’s admissions office brought in, donors committed to buying a building. But what is different about the alleged bribery scheme, dubbed “Varsity Blues” by the FBI, is that it was much more explicit exchange of holding a recruitment spot for a student in exchange for a set amount of money.
“Neither one of them may be commendable but it seems to me there is a difference between a bribe and a hope,” Shaw told Town & Country.
It’s typically acceptable for a college to favor the kids of donors as long as it’s only one of m
A federal court rejected a lawsuit in 1976 challenging the University of North Carolina’s preferential treatment to legacy students, citing that the school had a “reasonable basis” to favor children of alumni who “provide monetary support for the university.” When the US Department of Education investigated Harvard’s admissions practices in 1990, it concluded there was no legal reason that the school couldn’t favor wealthy and legacy students who may bring in more donations.
In college admissions offices, they often flag which applicants come from families that have been financially generous to the s
“But in this
HOW THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS FRAUD ACTUALLY WORKED
Singer pleaded guilty this week to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and obstruction of justice charges. After federal agents approached him last September, the complaint states, he attempted to contact several clients and warn them that the heat was on. He then became a cooperating witness, and agreed to call back many of his clients at the government’s direction while agents recorded.
Singer had two modes of operation. On one end, he would arrange for high school students to take the ACT or SAT away from their schools, typically at testing c
The campus of Georgetown University
The other process alleged by the feds involved bribing coaches and officials at USC, Georgetown, Yale, and other top notch schools to save a spot among the athletic recruits for Singer’s clients. Rudy Meredith, the former Yale women’s soccer coach, became a cooperating witness, while several others—including USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic, UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo, and Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst—were indicted for their roles.
Once the students were accepted, that’s when Singer would send an invoice to the parents typically asking them to make a $200,000 tax-deductible donation to his nonprofit, Key Worldwide Foundation, to under the official auspices to “provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth.”
Parents were often overjoyed, as Loughlin and Giannulli were when they received word that their older daughter was officially accepted into USC in March 2017. “We are on holiday in the Bahamas but will gladly handle when home next week,” Giannulli wrote to Singer’s office when given an invoice that month. They decided to repeat the process for Olivia Jade later that year, presenting her to USC as a Coxswain of LA Marina Club Team, according to the complaint.
The charging documents detail how Singer’s scam was nearly busted a few times. For instance, the complaint states that Loughlin wrote Singer in late 2017 after her daughters’ high school counselor inquired whether their college applications had misleading information about them being athletes.
Heinel, the USC athletics official, told Singer in a voicemail to make sure that the girls say that they are walk-on athletes and look forward to trying out for the team, the complaint states. She warned that if the high school guidance counselors found out more, “They’ll shut everything down.”
This is insider trading, college style. It potentially undermines the credibility of just about everybody until they can demonstrate otherwise.
Once the students were admitted as athletes, there was apparently no follow up to see whether they actually practiced. Several parents made sure with Singer that their kid wouldn’t have to actually participate in athletics, according to transcripts of phone calls, and the prosecutors insinuated that the students who got in through these arrangements had little to no idea what was happening behind the scenes.
The case will “open up a can of worms” for the college admissions world, said Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.
“This is insider trading, college style,” Lake said. “It reminds me a little of some of the scandals of the '80s on Wall Street, and it potentially undermines the credibility of just about everybody until they can demonstrate otherwise.”
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors