50 People Allegedly Involved in College Admissions Scandal of Unprecedented Scale


Sophia Lauer, Senior Editor

Federal prosecutors claim 50 people–including actresses, CEOs, college coaches, and test proctors–in a massive bribery and cheating scheme, part of the largest college admissions scandal in US history.

Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among the dozens of parents facing federal charges. Others charged include nine coaches at elite schools, two SAT and ACT administrators, an exam proctor, a college administrator, and a CEO who admitted he wanted to help the wealthiest families get their kids into elite colleges.

The University of Southern California, University of Texas at Austin, Stanford University, Yale University, Georgetown University, Wake Forest University, and UCLA have all released statements that they are victims of the scheme. Reuters reports that all of these universities have fired or placed on leave those coaches involved in the scandal, and have been cooperating with police.

The scheme was organized by William Rick Singer, CEO of a college prep company called The Key. According to CNN, Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice on Tuesday, March 12.

“I am absolutely responsible for it,” Singer, 58, told a federal judge in Boston. “I put everything in place. I put all the people in place and made the payments directly.”

US attorney, Andrew Lelling, described two different illegal cheating methods offered by Singer. “One was to cheat on the SAT or ACT, and the other was to use his connections with Division I coaches and use bribes to get these parents’ kids into school with fake athletic credentials,” he said.

The New York Times describes a system in which parents paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per test for a third party, usually a man named Mark Riddell, to secretly take the SAT or ACT in the student’s place or replace their responses with his own. Test administrators were bribed to allow Riddell to take the test. Another system involved parents paying $5,000 to get their child registered as having a learning disability which would allow them to take the test alone. Then, the test proctor would be bribed to change the students’ answers once they left the room.

In an athletics recruitment scheme, Division I coaches were bribed or conned to accept students who did not play the sport at a level worthy of Division I, or who did not play the sport at all.

Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the TV show Full House, and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to have their two daughters designated as recruits to the University of Southern California crew team. Neither of Loughlin’s daughters had any experience rowing, so the colleges were sent falsified photos of the girls on rowing machines.

“I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend,” said one of Loughlin’s daughters, Olivia Jade, in an Instagram post. “I’m going to go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can balance it all. But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying. I don’t really care about school.”

Loughlin’s daughters have decided to leave school for fear of bullying since the scandal broke. Olivia Jade reported that her father “faked his way through college” as well. She is a prominent YouTube and beauty personality, whose brand is focused on her life as a college student. Her makeup partnership with Sephora has been dropped, as has her mother’s contract with the Hallmark production company.

For all of Singer’s services, parents paid anywhere from $100,000 to $6.5 million, but the average parent paid between $250,000 and $400,000 per student. Between 2012 and 2018, parents paid Singer over $25 million in bribes and fraudulent donations.

Singer disguised bribe payments as charitable contributions to the Key Worldwide Foundation — a purported non-profit that was actually “a front Singer used to launder the money that parents paid him,” Lelling said.

“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said in agreement with national outrage that the wealthy have been allowed to cheat their way into elite universities.

“I will say that the investigation remains active,” prosecutor Lelling said in a press release. “These are not the only parents involved. We suspect these probably aren’t the only coaches involved, and so we will be moving ahead to look for additional targets.”

What will happen to students admitted through the scheme is also uncertain. There is debate regarding their guilt, since the parents were the most involved with Singer and student involvement is unclear and may vary from case to case. Many of the students are successful and responsible in their schools and careers, according to NBC.