Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and a host of executive directors are among the 50 wealthy people charged in the biggest college cheating scam prosecuted by the US Department of Justice, federal officials said on Tuesday.
The defendants in the investigation, dubbed "Varsity Blues," allegedly paid bribes of up to $ 6 million for their children to enter elite universities, such as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.
"This case is about the growing corruption of elite university admissions through the constant application of wealth combined with fraud," Andrew Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, told a news conference. .
"There can not be a separate university entry system for the rich and, I will add, there will not be a separate criminal justice system either," said Lelling.
Leader to plead guilty
According to Lelling, the ringleader of the scam is William Singer, owner of a university advisory service called Key Worldwide Foundation, which accepted bribes for a total of $ 25 million of parents between 2011 and 2018 "to guarantee the admission of their children to schools of elite. "
'"Parents are a catalog of wealth and privileges'
Singer is expected to plead guilty Tuesday in federal court in Boston on charges of extortion conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice, Lelling said.
Defendants in the investigation include nine coaches in elite schools, two SAT and ACT exam administrators, an exam supervisor, a college administrator and 33 parents, including Huffman and Loughlin.
"There can not be a separate system of admission to the university for the rich"
"Parents are a catalog of wealth and privileges," Lelling said. "They include, for example, the CEOs of private and public companies, successful equity and real estate investors, two well-known actresses, a famous fashion designer and the co-president of a global law firm."
Robert Zangrillo, founder and CEO of the private investment firm Dragon Global, is also mentioned as accused in the indictment. Bill Glashan, entrepreneur and international investor of private capital; and Gordon Caplan, a lawyer from New York.
False athletic credentials
He said that in many of the cases, Singer allegedly bribed the coaches, who "agreed to pretend that certain applicants were competitive athletes recruited when, in fact, the applicants were not."
Lelling said the coaches supposedly "knew that the students' athletic credentials had been invented."
He said that Singer allegedly worked with parents to "fabricate profiles for their children, including fake sports credentials and honors, or fake participation in elite club teams."
Singer allegedly even took the parents photos of the stage or photos in Photoshop of his children participating in sports.
Singer also arranged for a student to take the SAT and ACT tests individually with a supervisor in Texas or California who had bribed, Lelling said.
In a case highlighted by federal prosecutors, the head of women's football coaches at Yale University was paid $ 400,000 to accept a student, although the applicant did not play football. The parents of that student paid Singer $ 1.2 million.
Other elite schools named in the scam were the University of Texas, UCLA and Wake Forest.
Joe Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the Boston Field Office of the FBI, said 300 special agents were deployed across the country early Tuesday and arrested 38 people. He said that seven other suspects were working to surrender to the authorities and one is being actively persecuted.
Huffman was arrested at her home in Los Angeles, while Loughlin, who is in Canada, had not yet been arrested, sources told ABC News.
School officials react
The president of the USC, Wanda M. Austin, addressed the scandal in a letter to the university community.
"The federal government has alleged that USC is a victim in a scheme perpetrated against the university by an employee of the Department of Athletics, a current coach and three former coaches, who allegedly were involved in a college admission plan and have been accused by the government with multiple charges, "Austin wrote.
Austin promised to take "appropriate employment measures" against school employees involved in the scam and will review admission decisions.
"It is immensely disappointing that individuals abuse their position at the university in this way," the Austin letter reads. "We will continue to cooperate fully with all regulatory investigations of law enforcement."
Wake Forest officials also issued a statement saying the volleyball head coach of the North Carolina school was one of the defendants.
"The university has hired outside legal counsel to investigate this matter," said Wake Forest's statement. "Wake Forest has placed Ferguson on administrative license."
The national plan was prosecuted in Boston in part because it was discovered by FBI agents working on an unrelated case, authorities said. The false test scores were sent to Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern University, officials said, but none of those schools was named in the indictment.
In most cases, the students did not know that their admission was subject to a bribe, officials said.
According to the indictment documents, Huffman "made an alleged $ 15,000 charitable contribution … to participate in the cheating plan for the college entrance exam on behalf of his eldest daughter."
Bribes disguised as charitable contributions
"Later, Huffman made arrangements to follow the plan a second time, for his youngest daughter, before deciding not to do so," the documents allege.
Federal agents secretly recorded phone calls with Huffman and a collaborating witness, according to court documents.
The documents say that Loughlin, best known for her role as Aunt Becky in the ABC comedy "Full House," and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, "agreed to pay bribes for a total of $ 500,000 in exchange for their two daughters were designated as recruits to the crew of the USC, despite the fact that they did not participate in the crew, which facilitated their admission to the USC. "
Federal agents obtained emails from Loughlin implicating her in the scam, according to the documents.
The federal authorities finally had three collaborating witnesses to help them build their case.
"Today's arrests should be a warning to others: you can not pay to play, you can not cheat to get ahead because they will catch you," said Bonavolonta.