On March 12, 2019, the Justice Department charged 50 people, including Fuller House’s Lori Loughlin and former Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman, in six states in relation to a national and elaborate scheme to influence college admissions decisions around the country, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” by the FBI. The name is a reference to the 1999 James Van Der Beek film of the same name.
Quickly details emerged that wealthy parents of college applicants allegedly paid substantial sums, totally more than $25 million between 2011 and 2018, to a “college admissions counselor” who used the money to fake their children’s SAT scores, falsify details about the students and/or bribe college officials.The ringleader of the multi-million scheme is William “Rick” Singer, who claims he helped more than 750 families unethically gain admission into college. The case is the largest of its kind to be prosecuted by the Justice Department.
The recently unsealed 204-page indictment, which was unsealed in Boston, names Singer, coaches he bribed, and parents who allegedly used bribery and fraud to gain their children’s admission at nine universities: Georgetown University, Stanford University, University of Southern California, University of California, Berkeley, University of San Diego, University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University and Yale University.
Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice and helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation gather incriminating evidence against his high-profile co-conspirators.
Famed trial attorney Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, said the scandal was “the worst scandal involving elite universities in the history of the United States.”
According to the Department of Justice, once parents gave their “donation” to Key Worldwide Foundation, they received an email that said, “Your generosity will allow us to move forward with our plans to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth.”
Prosecutors allege that the parents deducted the “donations” from their taxes. According to federal investigators, the funds actually went to bribe coaches and to rig students’ test scores.
In one example, Prosecutors allege Singer paid Yale’s women’s soccer coach $400,000 to recruit a student, who didn’t play soccer. Yale released a statement saying that the women’s soccer coach who was named by prosecutors is no longer a coach at the school. Yale also says that the university was a victim in the scheme, according to Insider.com.
On March 13, Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. They released on $1 million bail for each. The parents allegedly paid $500,000, disguised as a donation to Singer’s nonprofit, Key Worldwide Foundation (the organization at the center of the scandal), to make it appear that their daughters were recruits for USC’s crew team, but in fact neither had ever been on any crew team and did not plan on being on USC’s crew team.
Loughlin and Giannulli are scheduled for a court appearance in Boston on March 29th and Loughlin be required to surrender her passport in December.
Meanwhile, Felicity Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 to Singer to correct her daughter’s SAT test. Charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, Huffman’s bail was set $250,000. Her husband William H. Macy was not named in the indictment. Huffman is scheduled for a March 29th court appearance in Boston.
US Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a press conference, “For every student admitted through this fraud, a legitimate, talented student was not accepted.”