Dozens Of Rich And Powerful Parents Indicted For Paying Bribes To Get Their Kids Into Elite Colleges — Here's What's Going On
Dozens of rich and powerful parents, including Hollywood actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, have been indicted for allegedly bribing college entrance exam administrators and college coaches to help their kids get into elite colleges. Coaches from Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and other universities were also indicted, along with individuals who helped facilitate cheating on the SAT and ACT. The charges were unsealed in a federal court in Boston on Tuesday.
The Cooperating Witnesses
The FBI investigated the bribery scheme with the help of three cooperating witnesses who participated in the scheme: the first a co-founder of a college counseling business called The Key (which helped coordinate the bribes), the second a test-prep instructor who took or corrected SAT and ACT tests on behalf of paying parents' kids, and the third a former women's soccer coach at Yale who accepted bribes to designate applicants as recruited athletes even though they weren't athletes. The cooperating founder of The Key has been identified in news reports as William Singer. All three cooperating witnesses have pled guilty to various charges related to the bribery scheme in the hopes of receiving sentencing leniency.
The Test Cheating Scheme
According to the FBI, The Key instructed parents to seek extra time for their kids to take the SAT or ACT by pretending they had learning disabilities. Then the parents arranged for their kids to take the test at one of two testing facilities with administrators who accepted $10,000 bribes from The Key. A third party then stepped in "to take the exams in place of the actual students, to serve as a purported proctor for the exams while providing students with the correct answers, or to review and correct the students' answers after they completed the exams" while the corrupt administrators looked the other way. Often, the kids had no idea their parents were paying to have someone else take their tests for them, as per this exchange between Singer ("CW-1") and one of the parents who paid to cheat on his daughter's ACT:
The Athletic Recruitment Scheme
The Key also allegedly accepted $25 million from parents between 2011 and 2018 to bribe college coaches and administrators to designate their children as athletic recruits, even though the kids didn't play competitive sports. Amazingly, this scheme sometimes involved Photoshopping the kids' faces onto pictures of athletes to make them look like athletes:
Bribes As Charitable Donations
The Key funneled the bribe payments through a nonprofit foundation it set up in 2012 called the Key Worldwide Foundation, allowing parents to write off their bribes as charitable donations on their tax returns. Singer highlighted the tax-deductibility of these "donations" in a wiretapped conversation with one of the indicted parents:
The Hollywood Stars
According to the FBI, "American Crime" actress Felicity Huffman paid The Key $15,000 to have a third party correct her older daughter's answers on the SAT in 2017. Huffman and her husband — who is not named in the FBI's complaint but who is actor William H. Macy, someone with experience in botched criminal schemes — also discussed having The Key intervene on their younger daughter's SAT (which they ultimately decided against). In one of their conversations, Huffman and Macy decided to have their younger daughter take the SAT over two days to help increase her score:
Huffman was reportedly arrested at her home Tuesday morning.
"Full House" actress and Hallmark channel star Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are also named in the complaint. Loughlin and Giannulli allegedly paid The Key $500,000 to have their two daughters named as crew recruits at the University of Southern California, even though neither daughter rowed. The Key also allegedly submitted one of the Giannulli daughter's application to USC on her behalf.
Loughlin and Giannulli's daughter Olivia, then a rising college freshman, got into some hot water last summer for posting a YouTube video in which she said "I don't really care about school, as you guys all know." Loughlin has also tweeted about her children's dislike of homework:
My kids will love this fun fact! UberFacts: Research shows homework has no academic value and students are usually given too much.
The Big Picture
In a startlingly revealing moment during a conversation with a parent client, Singer described The Key's operation as a "side door" for "the wealthiest families in the US" to get "a guarantee" that their children would be accepted to highly competitive universities