Felicity Huffman among dozens charged over admissions fraud at top US schools
US federal prosecutors have charged Hollywood actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, along with almost 50 other people, over a $25m scheme to help wealthy Americans buy their children’s way into elite universities including Yale, Georgetown, Stanford and the University of Southern California.
Huffman appeared in court in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon, where a magistrate judge said she could be released on a $250,000 bond. The judge ordered the Desperate Housewives star to restrict her travel to the continental United States. Huffman’s husband, actor William H Macy, attended his wife’s initial court appearance. He has not been charged and authorities have not said why.
Two hundred FBI agents were involved in the investigation, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues”, which exposed how parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said on Tuesday.
William “Rick” Singer, 58, was charged by federal prosecutors in Boston with running the racketeering scheme through his Edge College & Career Network, which served a roster of clients including chief executives and Hollywood actors.
racketeering[,ræki'tiəriŋ]: n. 敲诈勒索；诈骗
Thirty-three parents, including Huffman and Loughlin, were charged, as well as 13 college sports coaches and associates of Singer’s business. Dozens, including Huffman, were arrested by midday in what authorities called a “conspiracy nationwide in scope”.
"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for the district of Massachusetts, said in a press conference on Tuesday morning. “Based on the charges unsealed today, all of them knowingly conspired with Singer and others to … buy their children’s admission to elite schools through fraud.”
Lelling said the parents included CEOs, successful securities and real estate traders, a fashion designer and the co-chairman of a global law firm.
Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5m to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.
Huffman and Macy are accused of making a $15,000 payment disguised as a charitable donation as part of a scheme to allow their daughter to take part in the college entrance-exam cheating scam. Macy is not named in the filings and has not been indicted.
According to charging documents, Singer’s operation arranged for examiners to take college admissions exams in place of his clients’ children, advise them of correct answers, or change their test answers after they had been completed. Lelling said that in cases where the test was being administered for the second time, scores were raised in a calculated way so as not to raise suspicion.
In the charging documents, prosecutors produced a handwriting sample a student was asked to submit so that a fraudulent test-taker could try to match it.
In other cases, Singer allegedly conspired with college athletic coaches for applicants to be listed as recruited athletes, even if, as in several cases, they had never even played the sport in question. Pictures of students’ heads were even Photoshopped on to the bodies of athletes to create fake image profiles.
The coaches worked at such schools as Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles.
In one exchange captured in the complaint, a parent is asked for a photo of his son “a little bit in action” so he could be photoshopped onto a football player in an attempt to be admitted at USC.
"The way the world works these days is unbelievable,” the father replied, while agreeing to look for a suitable image.
Former Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith was among those caught up in the investigation, which prosecutors said took over a year to complete. Meredith is accused of accepting a $400,000 check from the family of a Yale applicant, and facilitating her admission to the university as part of the women’s soccer team, according to filings.
Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom Full House, while Huffman starred in ABC’s Desperate Housewives. Both were charged with fraud and conspiracy.
Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and Macy at their Los Angeles home and explained to them that he “controlled” a testing center and could have somebody secretly change her daughter’s answers in a college entrance exam. The person told investigators that the couple agreed to the plan.
Lelling said it “remains to be seen if we charge any students” and that the colleges themselves “are not considered co-conspirators”. Authorities said in many cases the teenagers were not aware of the fraud.