Thirteen parents involved in the college admissions scandal, including Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman, and one coach, agreed to plead guilty to fraud. Those who pled guilty are among 50 wealthy people charged in the largest college cheating scandal ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice known as “Operation Varsity Blues.” Federal prosecutors gave the parents charged in the case a short window to consider a deal or they would potentially face additional charges. Huffman admitted to paying $15,000 to have someone cheat on the SATs for her daughter and could serve four months in prison as part of her plea.
Federal prosecutors have offered deals to all the parents charged in the scheme but will only accept pleas that include prison time. The different sentences will reportedly be determined by the amount the parents paid in bribes, as well as by whether they accept responsibility. Prosecutors have reportedly recommended a range of sentences for those who accepted the deals with sentence recommendations ranging from 12 to 18 months in prison, though prosecutors also requested “low amounts” for certain defendants, like Huffman.
Shortly after the guilty pleas, federal prosecutors swiftly brought new money laundering charges against 16 parents who turned down the deal. Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are among the parents facing the additional charges, along with previously announced fraud charges, after they allegedly paid $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California by getting them recruited by the crew team—even though they did not practice the sport. Loughlin and Giannulli were reportedly facing two years in prison with their plea deals but they turned them down in hopes of a new deal with no jail time. Now, with the new charges, they could face up to 20 years in prison. William “Rick” Singer, 58, has already pled guilty to four felony counts after he admitted to collecting over $25 million in the scheme.
Parents charged in the scandal allegedly paid bribes of up to $6.5 million to get their children into elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said. Singer also allegedly bribed school coaches to give to his clients’ admissions slots reserved for student athletes in sports including crew and soccer. He went as far as to stage fake photos of his student clients engaging in sports they never played, or to digitally place the faces of his clients onto images found online of athletes. Singer instructed parents to donate funds to a fake charity he had established as part of the scheme. Parents were then able to deduct the donation from their income taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Federal prosecutors have said the probe is ongoing as they continue to investigate schools to see who at the institutions may have been involved. Several elite Southern California prep schools have received subpoenas from prosecutors seeking information about some of the students involved in the fraud case. Prosecutors want to know whether any parents or others accused in the case sought or received help from the schools. Stanford University announced this week they expelled a student who they say was connected to a $500,000 “donation” to one of Singer’s “charities”.
The scheme began in 2011 and was exposed when an LA parent who was facing stock fraud charges, brought evidence to a law enforcement in exchange for a deal. Rudy Meredith, Yale’s women’s soccer coach for more than two decades, had previously helped Singer fake the soccer credentials of a child of a Singer client. In early 2018, on his own accord, he solicited a bribe directly from the father of another Yale applicant. The man took the proposal to federal prosecutors looking to cut a deal, according to the court papers.