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13 Mar, 2019 00:01

Hypocrisy, privilege and bribes: Celebrities caught in college admissions fraud scandal

Hypocrisy, privilege and bribes: Celebrities caught in college admissions fraud scandal

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among some 50 people charged in the massive scam to cheat on admission to elite US universities that involved bribes, fraudulent test scores and even fake photographs.

Huffman (of ‘Desperate Housewives’ fame) and Loughlin (Aunt Becky from ‘Full House’) were among the 33 parents indicted on Tuesday by the Department of Justice in what was dubbed ‘Operation Varsity Blues.’ It is the largest college cheating scheme ever prosecuted by the DOJ.

The ringleader of the scheme was named as William Singer, owner of Key Worldwide Foundation and a company called Edge College & Career Network. Singer and several other employees of his outfits accepted some $25 million dollars in bribes from parents between 2011 and 2018 “to guarantee their children's admission to elite schools,” said US Attorney Andrew Lelling. Nine coaches, two ACT and SAT exam administrators, one proctor, and a college administrator were also charged.

“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud,” Lelling said Tuesday.

These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege.

Huffman and her husband – actor William H Macy, who is not named in the lawsuit – are accused of paying $15,000 to a California-based outfit to have their older daughter take her Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) at a testing center that would “secretly correct her answers afterwards” by over 400 points. The payment was allegedly disguised as a donation that would allow the charity to “move forward with our plans to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth.”

Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes and fabricating photos showing their daughter as a competitive crew rower, in order to get her admission to the University of Southern California (USC).

Many other cases involved photo fraud, according to Lelling. Singer allegedly helped parents “take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports,” and in other instances used stock photos by “sometimes Photoshopping the face of the child on the athlete, and submitting it.”

Three cooperating witnesses helped the federal authorities build their case against Singer and the participants in the scheme, which reportedly included recordings of Huffman and emails from Loughlin.

Huffman was detained on Tuesday, but released on a $250,000 bond. Giannulli was released on a $1 million bond. There was no word on Loughlin's status or bail amount.

Singer pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. He will be sentenced in June.

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