US Attorney Andrew Lelling announces sweeping charges in a nationwide college admissions scam. (FBI Boston)
BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — The FBI's Boston branch and MA US Attorney Andrew Lelling announced sweeping charges against dozens of people allegedly involved in a nationwide college admissions and testing scam—the largest such scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
The case, known as "Operation Varsity Blues," involves wealthy parents—business leaders, Hollywood actresses, and more—allegedly paying others to take their children's college admissions exams like the ACT and SAT, and also bribing coaches and college officials to accept their children under false pretenses.
"The parents charged today, despite already being able to give their children every legitimate advantage in the college admissions game, instead chose to corrupt and illegally manipulate the system for their benefit," Lelling said. "We're not talking about donating a building so that a school's more likely to take your son or daughter. We're talking about deception and fraud—fake test scores, fake athletic credentials, fake photographs, bribed college officials."
In total, those charged included three who organized the scams, two SAT/ACT administrators, one exam proctor, one college administrator, nine coaches at elite schools including Georgetown, Stanford, and UCLA, and thirty-three parents.
Felicity Huffman from the show "Desperate Housewives" and Lori Laughlin from "Full House" have been charged. Huffman is accused of making a charitable donation of $15,000 to help her eldest daughter, and Loughlin reportedly paid $500,000 to help out her two kids.
The coaches face racketeering charges, while the parents face charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Standord University said their head sailing coach, implicated in the scam, has been terminated.
College admissions adviser William Singer faces charges of racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of justice, and more.
Lelling said Singer worked with parents from about 2011 to 2019 to make fake athletic profiles for their children, complete with made-up credentials, honors, and participation in elite club teams.
"In many instances, Singer helped parents take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports," Lelling said. "Other times, Singer and his associates used stock photos that they pulled off the internet, sometimes photoshopping the face of the child onto the picture of the athlete and submitting it in support of the applications for these children to elite schools."
Lelling said that in one case, the head women's soccer coach at Yale took a bribe of $400,000 to take a recruit for the Yale women's team, "despite knowing that the applicant did not even play competitive soccer."
After the student got in, their parents are alleged to have paid Singer $1.2 million.
"This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud," Lelling said. "There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy, and I will add that there cannot be a separate criminal justice system, either."
WBZ NewsRadio's Mike Macklin reports