Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin, best known for her role in the sitcom “Full House,” and Felicity Huffman, who starred in the ABC hit show “Desperate Housewives,” are among at least 40 people charged in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating plot, reports NBC News.
According to the indictment unsealed in Boston on Tuesday, the alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities by helping potential students cheat on their college exams and to pose as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities.
The FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to the scheme’s mastermind, William Rick Singer, who allegedly boosted their childrens’ chances of “gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow it to happen, and bribing college coaches and administrators to identify the applicants as athletes,” authorities told NBC News.
Prosecutors said Singer, the founder of a for-profit college preparation business based in Newport Beach, California, was paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per test for someone else to take the SAT or ACT exams in place of their college-aged sons or daughters.
The indictment alleges that Singer facilitated the cheating by advising students to seek “extended time on the exams, including by having their children purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain medical documentation that ACT.”
Singer would use the cash to bribe two people who administered the exams, Igor Dvorsiky, of Los Angeles, and Lisa “Niki” Williams, of Houston, prosecutors said.
Dvorsiky and Williams would then allow Mark Riddell, a Florida man hired by Singer, to secretly take the exam or to correct the children’s answers with his own, according to the indictment.
Riddell was paid about $10,000 per test through a charity account set up by Singer, the indictment says.
“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth, combined with fraud,” said U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling.
“There can be no separate college admission for wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”
Loughlin and Huffman were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud. The defendants include Gamal Abdelaziz, president and CEO of Wynn Resorts Development; Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP; and Gregory Abbot, CEO of the International Dispensing Company.
In all, 49 people were charged thus far, including 33 parents and nine college coaches.
“We believe everyone charged here today had a role in fostering a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for students trying to get into these schools the right way through hard work, good grades and community service,” said John Bonavolonta, FBI special agent in charge.
From 2011 to 2019, parents paid Singer roughly $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators to “designate their children as recruited athletes, or other favored admissions categories,” according to the court documents.
NBC News reports:
In some cases, Singer’s associates created fake athletic “profiles” in an effort to improve the students chances of getting accepted by making them appear to be highly successful high school athletes.
Singer would then bribe college coaches to allot slots for incoming athletes to the children of the wealthy parents, authorities said. The coaches charged in the scheme include Jorge Salcedo, a former pro soccer player who coached the UCLA’s men’s team, and William Ferguson, who was the women’s volleyball coach at Wake Forest University. They were not immediately available for comment.
“Following 10 months of investigation using sophisticated techniques, the FBI uncovered what we believe to be a rigged system,” Bonavolonta said, “robbing students all over the country of their right to a fair shot of getting into some of the most elite universities in this country.”