We all understand that often a wealthy parent will fund a slick new campus building or a state of the art library on an elite college campus, thus securing their child’s admission to said elite university. This sort of deal happens often and most of us have come to accept it as not quite fair, but not horrible either – but what happened yesterday in Boston is wholly different – it crosses the line.
Yesterday federal prosecutors in Boston charged more than 50 wealthy parents, including famous actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, as well as prominent CEOs – in a 25-million-dollar elaborate felony scheme, to bribe elite college coaches and testing administrators in order to get their child admitted to elite universities, including Yale, USC, and Stanford.
William “Rick” Singer, 58, was charged with conducting the felony racketeering scheme. Prosecutors have alleged that for almost a decade, Singer arranged for fake test takers to take college admissions exams in place of his client’s children (scoring a very good score, but nothing that would gain too much attention). These test-takers either took the test outright (in place of the child) or corrected the exam after the child had taken it. Singer bribed the administrators and proctors of these exams as well.
Parents working with Singer also created completely fraudulent documents and doctored photos indicating that their child was an athlete (soccer, tennis, etc.) when in reality the student was not an athlete at all. The bribed coach would then convince the university’s Board of Admissions to accept the student based on this lie. Once the student was accepted, the student would often play on the sports team for a week or so, and then quit. Parents and Singer, also fashioned fraudulent special education documents that indicated that their child had a learning disability, often referred to as an IEP. This legal classification, which is very difficult to attain for any parent in the U.S. was then used as a means for their child to take more time in an exam or be given additional materials.
Singer was paid between $200,000-$400,000 per child for this service. These payments were then laundered through a bogus charity that Singer runs, according to prosecutors. The FBI has termed this massive felony fraud scheme as “Varsity Blues.” The details of how Singer committed these crimes, and who was indicted is fascinating and can be found here, in detail. But what I want to talk about, is how this harms Arizona families and our own universities in very real ways.
- Arizona public education is ranked 47th in the nation, and so Arizona families struggle just to get their children a basic education, let alone send their children to college. To see the veil ripped off and to actually see the ugliness beneath; to see how wealth, and only wealth, creates absolute winners and losers is shocking – even for the cynics among us. This has struck a chord; it’s a brazen disregard for the law and sense of absolute entitlement by our nation’s wealthy goes too far.
- Arizona High School Athletics: many Arizona students rely on athletic scholarships to attend even a state college, let alone an Ivy League one, and so for rich parents to outright lie and commit felony fraud in order to present their child as an athlete and then to produce fraudulent documents and doctored photos that describe a child as a gifted football player, for example, is shocking. These parents literally stole that coveted college slot from a deserving Arizona student athlete that applied for it.
- Special Education and IEP: Many Arizona students are legitimately classified as having a learning disability and thus given legitimate accommodations in school and often during tests. This classification can take years to get, and the legal documentation required to do so is laborious. To have these rich parents create false documents and say that their child has a learning disability (IEP), and thus be given more time on a SAT or ACT, is disgusting and hurts all Arizona families whose children have a legitimate learning disability. It hurts all Arizona special education teachers and organizations working so hard, every day to get Arizona kids the help they need.
- Wealth Gap: It is made clearer and clearer every day that there is a small number of people in our country who have an immense amount of wealth and then everyone else. If you, like me fall, into the “everyone else” category, these crimes committed by these wealthy families are maddening and make us feel as if we and our children stand no chance – it robs us of hope. How can we ever compete if the game is so badly rigged? We cannot.
- Trust: I really hope Arizona’s two major universities — The University of Arizona and Arizona State University — did not participate in this shocking felony in any way. This abuse of power and privilege by these parents and these college administrators/coaches puts Arizona state schools in the spotlight and makes Arizonans trust them a little less.
These wealthy parents and their children have so much, they have every advantage, their children have every leg up in life, and they still felt compelled to cheat, and break federal law in order that their child succeeds just a little bit more than they already have. When I see kids who literally have nothing from our state fight so hard, and sacrifice so much just to be able to attend ASU or UofA — and when I see Arizona families give up literally everything they possess to send their child to Harvard or Stanford — I am distressed beyond belief that some rich kid’s dad committed a felony and took that Arizona kid’s spot.
UCLA: The men’s head soccer coach Jorge Salcedo has been charged, UCLA says it is cooperating with the FBI.
Yale: The head women’s soccer coach has been charged. Yale says it is cooperating with the FBI.
Georgetown University: Former tennis coach Gordon Ernst was charged. Georgetown says it is cooperating with the FBI.
University of Texas: Tennis coach Michael Center was charged.
Wake Forest: Volleyball coach Bill Ferguson was charged
USC: Donna Heinel, senior associate athletic director at U.S.C
USC: Laura Janke, former assistant coach of women’s soccer at U.S.C.
USC: Ali Khosroshahin, former head coach of women’s soccer at U.S.C.
Yale: Rudolph Meredith, former head coach of women’s soccer at Yale.
Fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli was charged. He was arrested at his home today.
Actresses Huffman and Lori Loughlin were arrested at their home today.
CEOs charged: Manuel Henriquez, the chief executive of specialty finance lender Hercules Capital; Gordon Caplan, the co-chairman of international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher; Bill McGlashan Jr., who heads a buyout investment arm of private equity giant TPG Capital; and Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of the investment management firm Pimco.
A full list of all those charged can be found here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/investigations-college-admissions-and-testing-bribery-scheme