2019 college admissions bribery scandal

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2019 College Admissions Bribery Scandal
VenueUnited States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
LocationUnited States
Also known asOperation Varsity Blues
Organized byWilliam Rick Singer via
  • Key Worldwide Foundation
  • The Edge College & Career Network
ChargesFelony conspiracy to commit:

In 2019, a scandal arose over a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admissions decisions at several top American universities. The investigation into the conspiracy was nicknamed Operation Varsity Blues.[1][2] The investigation and related charges were made public on March 12, 2019, by United States federal prosecutors. At least 53[3] people have been charged as part of the conspiracy,[4][5] a number of whom pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty. Thirty-three parents of college applicants are accused of paying more than $25 million between 2011 and 2018 to William Rick Singer, organizer of the scheme, who used part of the money to fraudulently inflate entrance exam test scores and bribe college officials.[6][7]

Singer controlled the two firms involved in the scheme, Key Worldwide Foundation and The Edge College & Career Network (also known as "The Key"). He pled guilty and cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in gathering incriminating evidence against co-conspirators.[8][9] He said he unethically facilitated college admission for children in more than 750 families.[10] Singer faces up to 65 years in prison, and a fine of $1.25 million.

Prosecutors in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, led by United States Attorney Andrew Lelling, unsealed indictments and complaints for felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud against 50 people, including Singer, who has been "portrayed [...] as a criminal mastermind",[11] university staff he bribed, and parents who are alleged to have used bribery and fraud to secure admission for their children to 11 universities.[12][13][14][15] Among the accused parents are prominent business-people and well-known actors.[16][17] Those charges have a maximum term of 20 years in prison, supervised release of three years, and a $250,000 fine. One month later, 16 of the parents were also indicted by prosecutors for alleged felony conspiracy to commit money laundering. This third charge has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, supervised release of three years, and a $500,000 fine.

The investigation's name, Operation Varsity Blues, comes from a 1999 film of the same name.[1][2] The case is the largest of its kind to be prosecuted by the US Justice Department.[18]

Discovery and charges[edit source | edit]

The FBI alleged that beginning in 2011, 33 parents of high school students conspired with other people to use bribery and other forms of fraud to illegally arrange to have their children admitted to top colleges and universities.[19] Authorities became aware of the scheme around April 2018 when Los Angeles businessman Morrie Tobin, who was under investigation in an unrelated case for alleged pump-and-dump conspiracy and securities fraud, offered information in exchange for leniency in the previously existing, unrelated case.[20] An alumnus of Yale, he told authorities that the Yale women's soccer head coach, Rudolph "Rudy" Meredith, had asked him for $450,000 in exchange for helping his youngest daughter gain admission to the school.[21] As part of his cooperation with the FBI, Tobin wore a recording device while talking to Meredith in a Boston hotel on April 12, 2018; Meredith subsequently agreed to cooperate with the authorities and led them to Singer.[22][23] Meredith pled guilty as part of his cooperation with the prosecution.[21][22] Tobin has not been charged in this case, but in February 2019 he pled guilty in the unrelated securities fraud case.[22] US sentencing guidelines, to which judges often refer when deciding sentences, call for between eight and ten years behind bars.[20] According to The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and CBS, prosecutors are recommending 36 months of supervised release.[21][22][24] In addition, Tobin has agreed to forfeit $4 million as part of his plea deal.[20] Tobin was scheduled for sentencing at a hearing in June 2019, but this did not in fact take place.[24][25]

On March 12, 2019, federal prosecutors in Boston unsealed a criminal complaint charging 50 people with conspiracy to commit felony mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 1349.[15][19] Those charges have a maximum term of 20 years in prison, supervised release of three years, and a $250,000 fine.[26] The charges were announced by Andrew Lelling, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.[27][28] Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric Rosen, Justin O'Connell, Leslie Wright, and Kristen Kearney of the securities and financial fraud unit are prosecuting the case.[29][30] FBI special agent Laura Smith signed the 204-page affidavit in support of the charges.[31]

On April 9, 16 of the original 33 charged parents (i.e., Lori Loughlin, her husband Mossimo Giannulli, Gamal Aziz, Douglas M. Hodge, Bill McGlashan, Diane and Todd Blake, I-Hsin "Joey" Chen, Michelle Janavs, Elizabeth and Manuel Henriquez, Elisabeth Kimmel, Marci Palatella, John Wilson, Homayoun Zadeh, and Robert Zangrillo), who had not pled guilty to the original charges, were additionally charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering by federal prosecutors in Boston in a superseding indictment.[26][32] The indictment added those defendants to an existing case against David Sidoo, another of the 33 parents, that was already pending before Judge Nathaniel Gorton.[33] The indictment alleged that the parents engaged in a conspiracy to launder bribes paid to Singer "by funneling them through Singer's purported charity and his for-profit corporation."[26] This third charge has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, supervised release of three years, and a $500,000 fine.[26]

Allegations[edit source | edit]

Federal prosecutors alleged a college-admission scheme that involved:

  • bribing exam administrators to facilitate cheating on college and university entrance exams;[19]
  • bribing coaches and administrators of elite universities to nominate unqualified applicants as elite recruited athletes, thus facilitating the applicants' admission;[19]
  • using a charitable organization to conceal the source and nature of laundered bribery payments.[19]

Court documents unsealed in March 2019 detail a scheme led by William Rick Singer, a 58-year-old resident of Newport Beach, California. Wealthy parents paid Singer to illegally arrange to have their children admitted to elite schools by bribing admissions testing officials, athletics staff, and coaches at universities. Payments were made to Key Worldwide Foundation, a nonprofit organization owned by Singer and previously granted 501(c)(3) status; that status allowed him to avoid federal income taxes on the payments, while parents could deduct their "donations" from their own personal taxes. Singer offered college counseling services as The Edge College & Career Network, a limited liability company registered in 2012, which he operated out of his home in Newport Beach.[30][34]

Methods of fraudulent admission[edit source | edit]

Singer primarily used two fraudulent techniques to help clients' children gain admission to elite universities: cheating on college entrance exams and fabrication of elite sports credentials.[35]

Cheating on college entrance exams[edit source | edit]

Singer arranged to allow clients' children to cheat on the SAT or ACT college admission tests.[17] Singer worked with psychologists to complete the detailed paperwork required to falsely certify clients' children as having a learning disability; this in turn gave them access to accommodations, such as extra time, while taking the tests. Singer said he could obtain a falsified disability report from a psychologist for $4,000 to $5,000,[36] and that the report could be re-used to fraudulently obtain similar benefits at the schools.

Once the paperwork was complete, Singer told clients to invent false travel plans to arrange to have their children's test locations moved to a test center under his control, either in West Hollywood or Houston. Parents might also be advised to fabricate a family event that could provide a pretense for the student to take the SAT, ACT, or other test at a private location where Singer could have complete control over the testing process.[35]

In some cases, the student was involved directly in the fraud. In others, the fraud was kept secret from the student and corrupt proctors altered tests on their behalf after the fact.[37] In some cases, other people posed as the students to take the tests. Mark Riddell, a Harvard alumnus and college admission exam preparation director at IMG Academy, was one of the stand-in test takers who took over two dozen exams; he pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and one count of money laundering, and agreed to cooperate with investigators.[38][39][40] Prosecutors said he was paid $10,000 per test, and the government is seeking to recover almost $450,000 from him in forfeiture.[41] Riddell did not have advance access to the test papers, but was described as "just a really smart guy".[42] He could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, but reportedly prosecutors said that because of his cooperation they will instead likely recommend 33 months imprisonment at his November 1 (originally July 18) sentencing hearing.[40][43][44]

According to recorded phone calls, the transcripts of which were included in court filings, Singer claimed that the practice of fraudulently obtaining accommodations such as extra testing time, intended for those with bona fide learning disabilities, was widespread outside of his particular scheme:

Yeah, everywhere around the country. What happened is, all the wealthy families that figured out that if I get my kid tested and they get extended time, they can do better on the test. So most of these kids don't even have issues, but they're getting time. The playing field is not fair.[45]

For example, Jane Buckingham was arrested on March 12, 2019, for allegedly submitting false paperwork saying her son had a learning disability, and paying $50,000 to Key Worldwide Foundation for a proctor to take the ACT on her son's behalf, scoring a 35 out of 36. The goal was entrance to the University of Southern California (USC).[46] Portions of recorded conversations between Buckingham and a cooperating witness were included in the FBI's affidavit.[19][39][47]

Fabrication of sports credentials[edit source | edit]

Singer also bribed college athletics staff and coaches. At certain colleges, these personnel can submit a certain number of sports recruit names to the admissions office, which then views those applications more favorably. Singer used his Key Worldwide Foundation as a money-laundering operation to pay coaches a bribe for labeling applicants as athletic recruits. He also fabricated profiles highlighting each applicant's purported athletic prowess. In some cases, image editing software (e.g., Photoshop) was used to insert a photograph of a student's face onto a photograph of another person participating in the sport to document purported athletic activity.[35]

In one such incident, Michael Center, the men's tennis coach at the University of Texas (UT), accepted about $100,000 to designate an applicant as a recruit for the Texas Longhorns tennis team.[7] A similar fraud occurred at Yale,[21] where the then-head coach of the women's soccer team, Rudolph "Rudy" Meredith, allegedly accepted a $450,000 bribe to falsely identify an applicant as a recruit.[48][49] USC's senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic allegedly received $1.3 million and $250,000, respectively, for similar frauds.[50] They were indicted alongside former USC women's soccer coaches Ali Khosroshahin and Laura Janke.[51] Coaches at two other Pac-12 programs, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) men's soccer coach Jorge Salcedo and Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer, have been charged with accepting bribes.[52] Vandemoer admitted that he accepted $270,000 to classify two applicants as prospective sailors, and agreed to plead guilty to a charge of racketeering conspiracy.[53] At Wake Forest, head volleyball coach William "Bill" Ferguson was placed on administrative leave following charges of racketeering.[54] Former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon "Gordie" Ernst is alleged to have facilitated as many as 12 students through fraudulent means while accepting bribes of up to $950,000.[55] On March 20, 2019, the University of San Diego (USD) revealed that its former men's basketball head coach Lamont Smith allegedly accepted bribes.[56] Hours after that revelation, Smith resigned from his position as assistant coach at the University of Texas at El Paso.[57] Two San Diego families were accused of paying $875,000 as part of the scheme.[58]

Bill McGlashan, a private equity investor, allegedly discussed using Adobe Photoshop to create a fake profile for his son as a football kicker to help him get into USC.[59][60] Similarly, Marci Palatella, wife of former San Francisco 49ers player Lou Palatella, allegedly conspired with Singer to pass her son off as a long snapper recruit for USC.[60][61] In one of the most notable cases, actress Lori Loughlin, famous for her role on the American sitcom Full House and the drama When Calls the Heart, and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli of Mossimo fashion, allegedly paid $500,000 in bribes to arrange to have their two daughters accepted into USC as members of the rowing team, although neither girl had participated in the sport.[36] On March 13, 2019,[62][63] media sources reported that, when news of the scandal broke Loughlin's younger daughter was on Rick Caruso's yacht in the Bahamas with her friend, Gianna, Caruso's daughter.[64][65] Caruso is the chairman of the USC Board of Trustees.[66][67]

Singer pleaded guilty on March 12, 2019, in the U.S. District Court in Boston to four felony counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice for alerting a number of subjects to the investigation after he began cooperating with the government.[68] He faces up to 65 years in prison and a fine of $1.25 million.[69]

Involved parties and organizations[edit source | edit]

A total of 50 people have been charged in the investigations.[70] This number includes 33 parents of college applicants[47] and 11 named collegiate coaches or athletic administrators from eight universities.[17][70][71] Three additional universities are involved, but no staff members from those schools have been directly named or implicated, believed to be Stanford, Harvard, and Northwestern.[12][13][72]

Key Worldwide Foundation / The Edge College & Career Network[edit source | edit]

  • William Rick Singer, purported college counselor, and author of self-help books for college admission. Singer organized and sold fraudulent college admission services.[16][17] Singer pled guilty and cooperated with the prosecution.[50]
  • Mark Riddell, a Harvard alumnus and former director of college entrance exams at IMG Academy.[73] Riddell was paid by Singer to fraudulently take admission tests, impersonating the clients' children; he also paid College Board (which develops and administers the SAT and related tests), Educational Testing Service, and ACT contractors to deliberately mis-administer the tests.[41][74][75] He was fired from IMG Academy and pled guilty.[43][73]
  • Steven Masera, officer at Singer's companies.[74][75]
  • Mikaela Sanford, employee at Singer's companies.[74][75]

Other involved conspirators[edit source | edit]

  • Igor Dvorskiy, administrator of standardized tests (including those from ACT and the College Board), and director of an LA-area private school.[74][75] Pled guilty to a racketeering charge in November 2019.[76]
  • Martin Fox, Houston tennis academy president.[74][75] Agreed to plead guilty to a single count of racketeering on October 21, 2019.[77]
  • Niki Williams, administrator of standardized tests for ACT and College Board, Houston-area assistant high school teacher.[74][75]

Universities and accused personnel[edit source | edit]

Template:Ods The following universities, their associated athletic programs, and 11 university personnel are involved in the case:[12][14][71]

University Athletic program Indicted personnel Sport Details
Georgetown University[78][79] Hoyas Gordon "Gordie" Ernst Men's and women's tennis Former men's and women's tennis coach[78]
Stanford University[52] Cardinal John Vandemoer Sailing Former sailing coach, pled guilty, fired[52][75][80] and received 1 day imprisonment with time served, 6 months house arrest, $10,000 fine and 2 years supervised release.[81]
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)[82] Bruins Jorge Salcedo Men's soccer Former men's soccer head coach and former Major League Soccer player, placed on leave, then resigned[82][83]. Agreed to plead guilty on April 21, 2020.
University of San Diego (USD)[58] Toreros Lamont Smith Men's basketball Former men's basketball head coach[56]
University of Southern California (USC)[18][51][84] Trojans Donna Heinel Multiple Former senior associate athletic director, fired[51][84]
Laura Janke Women's soccer Former women's soccer coach; pled guilty.[51][85]
Ali Khosroshahin Former women's soccer head coach; pled guilty.[51][86]
Jovan Vavic Men's and women's water polo Former men's and women's water polo coach, fired[52][84][87]
University of Texas at Austin (UT)[7][88][89] Longhorns Michael Center Men's tennis Former men's tennis head coach,[7][88] fired,[89]pled guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud.[90] Sentenced February 24, 2020 to six months imprisonment, one year supervised release, and a $60,000 fine.[91]
Wake Forest University[54] Demon Deacons William "Bill" Ferguson Volleyball Volleyball coach, placed on academic leave[54]
Yale University[21][48] Bulldogs Rudolph "Rudy" Meredith[92] Women's soccer Former women's soccer coach, pled guilty and led the FBI to Singer[20][21][22][48]

Parents[edit source | edit]

Officials said Singer had many legitimate clients, who did not engage in any fraud.[93] Singer cited famous clients on his Facebook page while promoting his 2014 book Getting In[93][94] and, as a result of this and other public endorsements by Singer,[95] many former clients have made statements to distance themselves and their children from any perceived involvement in the scandal.[93][95]

The table below lists the 34 parents directly involved in the scheme as listed by CNN,[12] CBS News,[47] and People.[74][75] Morrie Tobin would be the 35th parent, but is not included in the above total due to the fact that he is an unindicted cooperating witness supporting the prosecution's case.[21][22][96][97] Fourteen of the 34 parents have, to date, agreed to plead guilty and twelve have been sentenced.[90][98][99]

Nature of alleged fraud Parent Target of fraud Family member Status Details
Admissions Gamal Aziz[100] USC Daughter Pleaded not guilty Former President and COO of Wynn Resorts and former CEO of MGM Resorts International[101]
Jeffrey Bizzack[102] USC Son Sentenced[102] October 30, 2019 California Businessman sentenced to two months in prison and was also ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and serve 900 hours of community service over three years of supervised release.
Diane Blake[47] USC Daughter Wife of Todd Blake[47]
Todd Blake[47] Entrepreneur and investor, husband of Diane Blake[47][103]
Mossimo Giannulli[104] USC Two daughters (including Olivia Jade) Pleaded not guilty Founder and fashion designer at Mossimo[105][106]
Lori Loughlin[18] Pleaded not guilty Actress best known for her roles on When Calls the Heart and Full House[105][106][107]
Douglas M. Hodge[88] USC Son and two daughters Sentenced[108] February 7, 2020 Former CEO of PIMCO[109][110]. Sentenced to nine months in prison, two years supervised release, 500 hours of community service and a $750,000 fine.
Agustin Huneeus Jr.[47] USC Daughter Sentenced[111] October 4, 2019 Napa Valley vineyard owner. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Sentenced to five months imprisonment. 500 hours of community service, and a $100,000 fine.[111]
Davina Isackson[47] UCLA Daughter Agreed to plead guilty.[47][98] Wife of Bruce Isackson
Bruce Isackson[47] Agreed to plead guilty.[47][98] Real estate development executive, husband of Davina
Elisabeth Kimmel[112] Georgetown Daughter Pleaded not guilty Media businesswoman and former owner of KFMB Stations[79][100][112]
Toby MacFarlane[47] USC Daughter Sentenced[113]

November 13, 2019

Title insurance executive. Pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, 200 hours of community service, a $150,000 fine, and to be under two years of supervised release.[113]
Marci Palatella[60] USC Son Distillery owner; her husband, former San Francisco 49ers guard Lou Palatella, has not been indicted[61]
Stephen Semprevivo[47] Georgetown Son Sentenced[114]

September 26, 2019

Sales executive. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to four months in prison, 500 hours of community service, two years supervised release and a $100,000 fine.
Devin Sloane[47] USC Son Sentenced[115]

September 24, 2019

CEO and founder of a water infrastructure company. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to four months in prison, 500 hours of community service, two years supervised release and a $95,000 fine.
Xiaoning Sui[116] UCLA Son Pleaded guilty[116]
John Wilson[47] USC[117] Son[117] Private equity and real estate development CEO[47]
Stanford[117] Twin daughters[117]
Homayoun Zadeh[47] USC Daughter Associate professor of dentistry[47]
Robert Zangrillo[47][119] USC Daughter Dragon Global founder and CEO[47][119]
Admissions & Testing Robert Flaxman[47] USD Son Sentenced[120]

October 18, 2019

Founder and CEO of Crown Realty & Development. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to one month in prison, 250 hours of community service, one year supervised release and a $50,000 fine.
ACT Daughter
Elizabeth Henriquez;[47]
Manuel Henriquez[88]
Georgetown Older daughter Agreed to plead guilty.

Elizabeth Henriquez sentenced March 31.[77]

Elizabeth Henriquez and Manuel Henriquez are married.[47][88] He is Hercules Capital founder, and resigned as Chairman and CEO.[122][123]Elizabeth Henriquez sentenced to seven months in prison, two years supervised release, 300 hours of community service and a $200,000 fine.
ACT and SAT[14][47]
Younger daughter
Michelle Janavs[47] USC Daughter Sentenced[125] February 26, 2020 Food industry executive[47] Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Sentenced to five months in prison, 200 hours of community service, two years supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
Bill McGlashan[47] USC Son Former managing partner and founder of TPG Growth, fired by TPG[122][126][127]
Testing Gregory Abbott[47] ACT and SAT Daughter Sentenced[128] October 8, 2019 Founder and chairman of International Dispensing Corp. and husband of Marcia Abbott. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to one month in prison, 250 hours of community service, one year supervised release and a $45,000 fine.
Marcia Abbott[47] Sentenced[128] October 8, 2019 Wife of Gregory Abbott. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to one month in prison, 250 hours of community service, one year supervised release and a $45,000 fine.
Jane Buckingham[129] ACT Son Sentenced[130] October 23, 2019 Marketing executive and self help book author. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to 21 days in prison, one year supervised release and a $40,000 fine.
Gordon Caplan[131] ACT Daughter Sentenced[132] October 3, 2019 Co-chairman of law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to one month in prison, 250 hours of community service, one year supervised release, and a $50,000 fine.
I-Hin "Joey" Chen[47] ACT Son Shipping and warehousing-services operator[47]
Amy Colburn[47] SAT Son Wife of Gregory Colburn[47]
Gregory Colburn[47] Radiation oncologist, husband of Amy Colburn[47][133]
Felicity Huffman[18] SAT Daughter Sentenced[134]

September 13, 2019

Academy Award nominated actress. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to 14 days in prison, 250 hours of community service, one year supervised release and a $30,000 fine
Marjorie Klapper[47] Entrance exam Son Sentenced[135] October 16, 2019 Jewelry business co-owner. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to 21 days in prison, 250 hours of community service, one year supervised release and a $9,500 fine.
Karen Littlefair[3] Online Classes Son Pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud[3]
Peter Jan Sartorio[47] ACT Daughter Sentenced[136] October 11, 2019 Food industry executive. Pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest service mail fraud. Sentenced to one year probation, 250 hours of community service and a $9,500 fine.
David Sidoo[137] SAT
Canadian high school graduation exam
Potentially resulted in admission to UC Berkeley[13]
Two sons Offered guilty plea, sentencing July 15, 2020 Canadian businessman and former Canadian Football League player[137]
Unindicted cooperating witness[21][22][97]
Admissions Morrie Tobin[21] Yale Youngest daughter
  • Offered information on the case to prosecutors in exchange for leniency on an unrelated fraud charge.[21][22]
  • Purportedly was asked for a bribe by Yale coach Rudy Meredith in exchange for Meredith getting Tobin's youngest daughter admitted into Yale.[98][138]
  • Tobin has not been charged or indicted in the case.[21][22]

Responses[edit source | edit]

In response to the scandal, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the chief governing body for college sports in the United States, announced plans to review the allegations "to determine the extent to which NCAA rules may have been violated".[52][139]

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), of the Senate Finance Committee, plans to sponsor a bill making donations to schools taxable if the donor has children attending or applying to the college.[140] Separately, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have agreed to reintroduce 2017 legislation that imposes a fine on colleges and universities that have the smallest proportion of low-income students.[140]

Extrajudicial actions[edit source | edit]

Indicted coaches were fired or suspended, or had already left the university at the time of the charges.[141] Mark Riddell, who took tests on behalf of the students, was suspended from his position as director of college entrance exam preparation at IMG Academy and fired a week later.[43][73][142]

On March 26, 2019, Yale became the first university to rescind the admission of a student associated with the scandal.[138] On April 2, Stanford announced they also expelled a student connected to the fraud.[143]

The Hallmark Channel cut its ties to Lori Loughlin, star of the program Garage Sale Mystery and When Calls the Heart, after she was named as a parent in the indictments.[95] According to The Hill, Netflix decided to drop Loughlin from Fuller House as well.[144] Her younger daughter Olivia Jade also lost her partnership with TRESemmé and the Sephora chain of beauty products.[145] It was reported by TMZ, Page Six, and others that Loughlin's daughters dropped out of USC due to fears of being "viciously bullied";[107] however, a USC spokesperson confirmed in March that they both remained enrolled at the school[95][146] and in October the school's registrar stated they were no longer enrolled.[147] According to the San Jose Mercury News, USC scheduled a hearing in March 2019 to determine if Olivia Jade should be designated a "disruptive individual", which would result in her lifetime ban from the university's campus and properties.[148]

Lawsuits[edit source | edit]

Multiple lawsuits were immediately filed against universities and individuals. Three students from Tulane University, Rutgers University, and a California community college filed a complaint against Singer and the affected universities that they hope will be certified as a class-action suit.[149] A Stanford undergraduate claimed a loss for the time and money she spent applying to schools named in the scandal, as well as the possibility that the stain on Stanford's reputation will decrease the value of her degree. A parent filed a $500 billion civil suit in San Francisco against all the indicted individuals, claiming that her son was denied admission to some schools because of other parents buying access.[150]

Commentary[edit source | edit]

After the scandal broke, multiple American news sources including The Atlantic,[151] Vox,[152] Rolling Stone,[153] and The New York Times[154] characterized it as a symptom of a broken college admissions system.[155][156] Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, said it was "the worst scandal involving elite universities in the history of the United States".[157] Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator from Massachusetts (where all the criminal cases were filed), told news media that the scandal represented "just one more example of how the rich and powerful know how to take care of their own".[158]

Much of the news coverage attempted to explain why anyone would have been tempted by Singer's scheme. A common attribute among the defendants was that many were rich, but not ultra-rich. According to The New York Times,[159] college admissions at certain elite American universities had become so selective that a family would have to make a minimum donation of $10 million to inspire an admission committee to take a second look at their child.[159] And even for families of such means, there would be no guarantee of return on investment, while Singer was selling certainty.[159] In open court, he said: "I created a guarantee."[159] The Los Angeles Times explained that there was probably also a social signaling element at work, in that admission to an elite university based purely upon an applicant's apparent merit publicly validates both the child's innate talent and the parents' own parenting skills in a way that an admission coinciding with a sizable donation does not.[160]

In turn, others examined why certain universities had become so selective in the first place. The Atlantic pointed out that college seats are not scarce in the United States, except at a handful of universities which became selective on purpose: "[S]carcity has the added benefit of increasing an institution's prestige. The more students who apply, and the fewer students who get in, the more selective an institution becomes, and, subsequently, the more prestigious. And parents are clawing over one another to get a taste of the social capital that comes with that."[161] Arizona State University (ASU) president Michael M. Crow described the "crisis of access to these social-status-granting institutions" as a full-blown "hysteria".[161] It was alleged in court filings that one of the defendant parents had named ASU as a university they were specifically trying to avoid; the non-selective university has been the "butt of jokes" in American television shows for many years, as well as the 2015 film Ted 2.[162] The inevitable result, according to Newsweek, was that the most elite institutions had created a situation in which purely meritocratic admissions had become impossible because they were already turning away too many overqualified candidates—former Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust had once said, "we could fill our class twice over with valedictorians."[163] It was also recognized that any workable long-term solution would need to alleviate the underlying anxiety driving the crisis, either by restructuring the college admissions process or the American labor market.[161][163]

HuffPost explained that such anxiety barely exists in Canada, whose four-year universities do not show such extreme disparities in selectivity and prestige, and in turn, most Canadian employers do not rigidly discriminate between job candidates based upon where they graduated. In contrast, selective American universities have evolved into gatekeepers for the highest echelons of certain socially prestigious and financially lucrative industries like law and finance.[164] University of Oklahoma history professor Wilfred M. McClay told Newsweek: "I'm not going to pretend there isn't a difference between Harvard and Suffolk County Community College, but I think this situation where the Supreme Court is made up entirely of Harvard or Yale Law School graduates is wrong. The thing driving the current scandal seems to be that ultimately parents were willing to do anything to game the system to get their kids these advantages, not because the education was better but because the legitimation of social position would be better."[163]

Art and adaptation[edit source | edit]

Lifetime Film[edit source | edit]

In 2019, Lifetime produced and broadcast a television film about this event called The College Admissions Scandal. The film stars Penelope Ann Miller as Caroline DeVere, Mia Kirshner as Bethany Slade, and Michael Shanks as Rick Singer.[165]

Ranked (musical)[edit source | edit]

On April 4, 2019, three weeks after Operation Varsity Blues' charges were made public, Granite Bay High School debuted Ranked, a new musical. The show, written from 2018-2019 by the school's drama teacher and musical director, focused on academic pressure in schools, specifically telling the story of a student whose parents were paying for his grades without his knowledge.[166] The timing of the musical's debut in relation to the scandal was serendipitous, and earned the high school national attention.

Rick Singer worked in the Granite Bay community a decade prior as a college coach for local high school students.[167]

See also[edit source | edit]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Kates, Graham (March 12, 2019). "Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman among dozens charged in college bribery scheme". CBS News. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
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