'Operation Varsity Blues': College Cheating Scheme Names Dozens
BOSTON, MA — Federal prosecutors in Boston have charged parents, college coaches and others in what they described as the “largest ever” college recruitment scam prosecuted by the Department of Justice, a scheme that included the rich and famous allegedly trying to climb their way into Ivy League colleges and others on steps of money and prestige.
Documents from the DOJ’s investigation, titled “Operation Varsity Blues,” show that prosecutors have charged dozens, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. In total, 50 people have been named, including 33 parents, nine coaches, two SAT and ACT administrators, one proctor and one college administrator.
Loughlin, best known for her role as Aunt Becky on “Full House” and Huffman, best known for her role of Lynette Scavo on “Desperate Housewives,” are charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said at a Tuesday press conference. Among those charged with the acresses and others are CEOs, a famous fashion designer and a co-chairman of a global law firm. The coaches charged as part of the scheme include Rudy Meredith, 51, the former head women’s soccer coach at Yale and John Vandemoer, 41, the former sailing coach at Stanford University.
Officials said that 38 people have been taken into custody safely, seven are working towards surrendering and one is being “actively pursued.” Prosecutors have charged the parents with with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
An affidavit in support of a criminal complaint says that the defendants named by prosecutors conspired with others, known and unknown, to bribe college entrance exam administrators to facilitate cheating on the exams, to bribe varsity coaches and college administrators at elite universities to designate certain applicants as recruited athletes or favored candidates and to use a charitable organization as a front to conceal the nature and the source of the bribes.
The defendants, who prosecutors say were mainly people whose children were applying to college, conspired to use bribery and other types of fraud to have their children admitted to colleges and universitites, the complaint says.
Some of the elite universities where prosecutors say the defendants tried to have their children admitted include Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California-Los Angeles.
William “Rick” Singer, 56, of Newport Beach, California, who is accused by federal officials of being at the center of the scheme, is charged in Massachusetts with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. Singer owns “Edge College & Career Network, LLC,” also known as “The Key,” a purported charitable foundation that he used as a front to launder money to facilitate the scheme, officials said. Many of the bribes were paid through the purported charity, prosecutors say.
Singer pleaded guilty in Boston federal court Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
Prosecutors allege that the scheme included bribing college entrance exam administrators to allow a third party to pose as the actual students in some cases, provide answers during the exam or correct answers after they had completed the exams. Singer is accused of instructing his clients to seek extended time for their children on SAT and ACT exams and to change the location of the exams to either a public high school in Houston or a private college prep school in West Hollywood, California.
At those two centers, Singer paid bribes to two administrators, Niki Williams, 44, of Houston and Igor Dvorskiy, 52, of Sherman Oaks, California, to allow cheating, prosecutors said. The two administrators accepted bribes of as much as $10,000 per test, according to prosecutors. Both Williams and Dvorskiy are charged in an indictment with racketeering conspiracy.
A third person charged in the case, Mark Riddell, 36, of Palmetto, Florida, would take the exams in place of students, give the answers during the exam or correct them after the tests, prosecutors allege. Riddell is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The scheme also involved bribing athletic coaches and administrators to designate college applicants as athletic recruits regardless of whether the applicants played the sport or not, court documents say. Prosecutors say parents paid Singer approximately $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators for this purpose. Singer told parents to make charitable donations to “The Key,” which he then funneled to programs controlled by athletic coaches, prosecutors said.
The scheme also involved having a third party take classes in place of actual students and submitting falsified applications for admission, documents say.
The actual colleges are not seen as co-conspirators in the scheme, officials said.
You can see all those charged in the scheme here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.