- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A high school senior who weighs only 145 pounds is accepted into an NCAA Division 1 football program — as a long snapper, a position that would pit him against players twice his weight.

A daughter of “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli appears on a rowing machine in her college entrance photos and wins a spot at the University of Southern California and its crew team — without ever having rowed competitively.

A wealthy New York lawyer flies his daughter to a West Hollywood center to take a college admissions test — and pays the test’s proctor to change her answers so that the girl scores a 32 instead of her usual 22.

Those stories — and others like them — make up what U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling is calling the “largest college admission scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” The tales of the rich and famous buying their children’s entrance into elite universities across the country appear in court documents that were unsealed Tuesday in a federal court in Boston.

Miss Loughlin and “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, along with several athletic coaches and prominent business executives, are among 50 people accused of bribery, fraud and other charges resulting from a 10-month federal investigation of a college admissions firm that catered to America’s wealthy to provide a “side door” into the country’s top colleges.

“It’s a sham that strikes at the core of the college admission process,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Boston.

SEE ALSO: Felicity Huffman released on $250,000 bail in college admission scam, judge says

The investigation was code-named Operation Varsity Blues.

The scam, which prosecutors said netted more than $25 million in bribes, was engineered by admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network LLC of Newport Beach, California. Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston to conspiracy charges involving racketeering and money laundering, as well as obstruction of justice.

At least nine coaches at schools such as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, are accused in the federal indictment. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others. Stanford’s sailing coach pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston.

Officials said well-heeled parents paid $200,000 to $6.5 million to buy their children’s admission into the school of their choice.

According to the court documents, Miss Huffman donated $15,000 to Singer’s phony charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, in exchange for helping her eldest daughter with her college admission test. With Singer’s “help,” her daughter scored 1,420 out of a possible 1,600 on the SAT entrance exam — a 400-point improvement over her previous score.

Miss Huffman, who was set to be released after posting a $250.000 bond Tuesday, appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom with her husband, Showtime “Shameless” star William H. Macy, who was not charged.

Also in the documents, a transcript of a recorded phone conversation shows William E. McGlashan Jr., a senior executive at a global private equity firm, talking with Singer about preparing a “sports profile” for Mr. McGlashan’s son.

“I’ll pick a sport, and we’ll do a picture of him,” Singer tells his client. “I’ve already done that a million times.”

When Mr. McGlashan says his son plays lacrosse, Mr. Singer tells him that USC does not have a lacrosse team.

“But as long as I can see him doing something, that would be fine,” says Singer, who would use Photoshop to crop the faces of clients’ children onto the bodies of real student-athletes.

Other Singer clients named in the 200-page charging document: Jane Buckingham, CEO of a boutique marking firm; Gordon Caplan, chairman of an international law firm; and Manuel Henriquez, CEO of Hercules Capital, a publicly traded finance company.

According to the documents, Mr. Henriquez and his wife bribed Georgetown University’s head tennis coach and claimed in their daughter’s entrance essay that she had ranked in the top 50 in the U.S. Tennis Association. In reality, the highest the girl had ever been ranked was 207th in Northern California’s under-12 girls division, with an overall win-loss record of 2-8.

After being encouraged by Singer to “talk about tennis” in her college admission essay, the Henriquezes’ daughter wrote: “Being a part of Georgetown women’s tennis team has always been a dream of mine. For years I have spent three — four days a day grinding out on and off court workouts with the hopes of becoming successful enough to play college tennis especially at Georgetown.”

The scheme from 2011 through February 2019 totaled nearly $6.5 million in bribes, according to documents.

“There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy,” said Mr. Lelling, the federal prosecutor. “There will not be a separate criminal justice system, either.”

Singer’s phony charity received “donations” from parents for testing services: Students would take exams in closed rooms with single proctors who later would change their answers to achieve higher scores. To receive the isolated testing, students needed to convince the college testing board they had a learning disability and needed extra time.

Singer told Mr. Caplan that his daughter needed “[t]o be stupid” before a therapist to receive extra time and accommodation at the testing center.

“To be honest, it feels a little weird,” Mr. Caplan says in a recorded conversation. “I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about that, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”

In page after page of affidavits submitted by prosecutors, Singer outlined his scheme that bribed proctors and landed fake athletes in coveted college sports programs. Upon entrance, students would fake injuries, quit after a short period or in many cases not even show up for practice.

“There is a front door, which means you get in on your own,” Singer says in a recorded conversation with a client. “The back door is through institutional advancement, which is 10 times as much money. And I’ve created this side door in.”

A number of colleges moved quickly to fire or suspend the coaches and distance themselves from the scandal, portraying themselves as victims. Stanford fired the sailing coach, and USC dropped its water polo coach and an athletic administrator. UCLA suspended its soccer coach, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach.

Miss Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House” in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Miss Huffman was nominated for an Oscar for playing a transgender woman in the 2005 movie “Transamerica” and won an Emmy for her role on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.” She also starred in the TV show “Sports Night” and appeared in films such as “Reversal of Fortune,” “Magnolia” and “The Spanish Prisoner.”

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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