These days, the college admissions process is so competitive and selective that most Ivy League schools only accept about 5-6% of student applications. It doesn’t help that 30% of the students who make the cut are legacy students from America’s wealthiest WASP families. This gatekeeping isn’t an accident: according to Think Progress, universities started prioritizing legacy students to intentionally exclude “less-desirable” applicants, such as immigrants, Jewish youths, and people of color. So long as a student is whiter and wealthier than the average teenager, they are automatically granted unique privileges and preferential treatment when it comes to the admissions process.
So, it’s easy to see why the public is outraged over a recent college admissions scheme that helped wealthy children get into America’s most prestigious universities.
Understanding this High-Profile White-Collar Crime
On March 12, 2019, federal prosecutors arrested 50 people – including Hollywood celebrities, prominent business leaders, top athletic coaches, and high-ranking administrators – for participating in a $25 million scheme to buy spots at Ivy League universities. Not only did they cheat the system, they also prevented hard-working students from entering their dream colleges.
Since 2011, wealthy families have been paying William Rick Singer, founder of Key Worldwide Federation, thousands of dollars to:
- Have people take SAT exams in place of their children
- Entice test administrators to give their children extra test time
- Bribe college coaches to recognize their children as exceptional athletes
The FBI investigation, “Operation Varsity Blues,” is responsible for exposing what is now being considered the largest college admissions scheme in American history. Singer used his foundation as a front for his illegal business, allowing parents to funnel money without paying federal taxes.
Wealthy teenagers who benefited from this system include:
- A high schooler who never played soccer instantly became a star recruit at Yale ($1.2 million).
- A teenage boy faked a learning disability and took a standardized test with a proctor who gave him the correct answers ($50,000).
- A celebrity’s daughter was given unlimited time to take the SATs ($15,000).
- A teenager without any rowing experience won a spot on the USC crew team after Singer doctored a photo of her “competing” ($200,000).
Singer has since pleaded guilty to counts of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. He justified his crimes by saying, “If I can make the comparison, there is a front door of getting in where a student just does it on their own, and there’s a back door where people go to institutional advancement and make large donations, but they’re not guaranteed in. And then I created a side door that guaranteed families to get in. So that was what made it very attractive to so many families, is I created a guarantee.”
Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, stressed that “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth, combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission for the wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”
Aside from a few corrupt personnel and coaches, there’s no evidence that the universities themselves were involved in the scam, though the investigation is still ongoing. UCLA and other prestigious universities are suspending or terminating any employees who might have connections to Singer.
Celebrities Pay Out
While this elaborate scheme has reaped significant media attention, what keeps it reigning as headline news is the involvement and arrests of actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Both actresses have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to pay $500,000 to get their daughters into USC. On an FBI-recorded phone call, Loughlin told a witness that she could also arrange for her daughter to be photographed on an ergometer rowing machine. This image would be “proof” that the daughter served as the crew coxswain for the L.A. Marine Club team – a false claim listed on her USC application. According to court paperwork, Loughlin agreed to keep the daughter’s acceptance “hush hush.” Loughlin surrendered to authorities on March 13, 2019 and was later released on a $1 million bond. She is scheduled to appear in court on March 29, 2019.
Likewise, Huffman paid $15,000 to make sure her daughter could take extra time on the SATs. Before her arrest, the FBI recorded a conversation she had with Singer about her youngest daughter’s low test scores; she was prepared to pay thousands to have a ringer take the SATs in place of her daughter. Huffman was released on a $250,000 bond and has a preliminary hearing scheduled on March 29, 2019.
Arrested for a White-Collar Crime? Our Trial-Tested Attorney Can Help.
White collar crimes are financially-motivated criminal acts that usually involve fraud, racketeering, embezzlement, or money laundering. A convicted offender can face imprisonment, exorbitant fines, disgorgement, and other severe penalties. The only way to protect your future is to rely on the services of a trial-tested lawyer. At The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller, our aggressive and relentless attorney can defend your rights in both state and federal courts. Our legal team is armed with over two decades of legal experience and a comprehensive understanding of this multifaceted legal process. We can investigate your charges, collect and analyze evidence, interview witnesses, and consult with specialists to develop a solid defense strategy that aims to safeguard your future.