Operation Varsity Blues College Admissions Scam 2019: Everything To Know
On Tuesday, March 12, many around the country were shocked to learn of the massive college admissions scandal the FBI dubbed Operation Varsity Blues. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, whose office ran the case alongside the FBI, made relevant court documents available to the public on their website, but what stood out to entertainment fans was that actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among those indicted! Here is everything you need to know about the scandal and the two star’s involvement:
13. What Happened
The scandal came to light after FBI released documents revealing that many rich and influential parents had paid predetermined amounts that were then funnelled to to an SAT or ACT administrator or a college athletic coach to get their children into elite schools. So far 50 people have been indicted in the scam, and the schools involved include UCLA, USC, Yale Georgetown, Stanford, University of San Diego, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University. Andrew Lelling, U.S. District Attorney of Massachusetts, noted that, “The schools are not considered co-conspirators.” But added that some college coaches and one administrator, USC senior associate athletic director Dr. Donna Heinel, have been indicted.
12. Felicity Huffman’s Involvement
Among the many parents indicted, actress Felicity Huffman’s name stood out. It was revealed that Huffman paid $15,000 “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter [Sofia Grace Macy].” The paperwork also states that “Huffman later made arrangements to pursue the scheme a second time, for her younger daughter, before deciding not to do so.” While Huffman was indicted, her famous husband William H. Macy was not. It is unclear if charges are still coming for Macy as transcripts from wiretapped phone calls included in the documents mention Huffman’s “spouse,” and even have quotes from him yet Macy is never named in the documents and has not been charged so far although he is set to appear in court.
11. The Non-Profit
The entire scam was reportedly unearthed after authorities found a California businessman who ran an operation helping students get into the college of their choice. In a press conference the U.S. Attorneys Office named William Rick Singer as the ringleader of the operation stating he created a fake non-profit charitable foundation called Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF) around 2012 which served as the “front” to launder the payments which then allowed the parents to write off the bribes as tax-deductible donations. According to reports Singer plead guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The bribes were disguised as payments to this “charity” for “underserved kids.” In one of the phone call transcripts in the available documents Singer informed Trendera CEO Jane Buckingham that, in addition to getting her son a high ACT score, her bribe check will also count as an IRS tax write-off. “Oh, even better!” Buckingham said.
10. Pretending to be Athletes
There seems to be two sides to how the bribes were performed, one of which was that the admissions process was duped by making up background information to pretend kids were athletes when they were not. For example, Lori Loughlin and her husband had their donation paid to designate their daughters as recruits for the crew team at USC despite the fact they did not actually participate in crew. Singer would fabricate fake athletic profiles for many children and parents would go so far as sending in fake or photoshopped images of their children participating in the alleged sport. Two of the accused worked with USC’s senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel to present their son as a recruit to the school’s men’s water polo team and paid more than $200,000 in the scam. According to the documents, the accused purchased water polo gear through Amazon and an email revealed that he worked with a graphic designer to create photos of his son playing the sport. There are numerous examples of parents doing this exact same thing in many sports to get their child admitted.
9. Pretending to Have Disabilities
Even worse than those faking their child’s athletic abilities, there were others who would fake that their child had a learning disability so they could complete their SAT or ACT exams in one of Singer’s testing centers where Mark Riddell (who is a cooperating witness) would either take the test for them or give them the answers. Singer would reportedly help parents fake medical documentation saying their kids had a learning disability that required “extra time” so they could take the test on their own over multiple days. If the documentation was accepted the kids could then go to one of Singer’s two testing centers in Houston or L.A., where the scam could be completed. In order to secure that medical documentation, Singer told New York lawyer Gordon Caplan that his daughter should pretend “to be stupid” during her meeting with a psychologist: “The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies.”
8. Lori Loughlin’s Involvement
Unlike with Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo clothing founder, Mossimo Giannulli, were both indicted in the scam. As mentioned, the pair paid Singer $500,000 to have their daughters designated as recruits for the USC crew team. The pair simply sent in pictures of their daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose simply using a rowing machine as sufficient proof they were rowers. While Loughlin’s husband was arrested, a warrant for Loughlin’s arrest was also issued but could not be served. Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokesperson for the United States Attorney in the District of Massachusetts, explained that the actress “is out of the country” but “was contacted by federal authorities and told to turn herself in.” The documents state she is to turn herself in on Wednesday, March 13.
7. Lori Loughlin’s Daughter’s Comments
A lot more focus has been in Loughlin’s involvement in the case because of the popularity of her younger daughter Olivia Jade. With 1.3 million Instagram followers and nearly 2 million YouTube subscribers, Olivia Jade’s life in the spotlight has made previous comments she has made about school appear even worse. The star had made several comments about not caring about school and last year, long before the scandal was unearthed, she received backlash when she posted a video in which she said she was only interested in attending college for the parties. “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend but I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all,” she said. “But I do want the experience of like game days, partying…I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.” After reading the comments and massive backlash, she posted an apology video. “I said something super ignorant and stupid, basically. And it totally came across that I’m ungrateful for college — I’m going to a really nice school. And it just kind of made it seem like I don’t care, I just want to brush it off. I’m just gonna be successful at YouTube and not have to worry about school,” she said in the video. “I’m really disappointed in myself.”
6. The Children’s Involvement
Given the fact that the “children” involved in the case are near adults going on to post-secondary education, there have been a lot of questions about whether or not they would be punished or what the consequences would be for them. “As for charges against them, we’re still considering that. It’s not an accident that there are no students charged in these charging documents,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in the press conference. “The parents, the other defendants, are clearly the prime movers of this fraud. It remains to be seen whether we charge any of the students.” He added that it is up to the schools they attend as to whether or not they get expelled. “What is the reaction of the school’s they go to? We leave that to the schools,” he said. In the documents it seems that while some parents went to great lengths to conceal the truth from their children, others did not and that includes Loughlin. The documents show that Loughlin included her younger daughter Olivia Jade on an email to Singer asking for help with filling out the USC application, since her daughter had not yet submitted her college applications “and is confused on how to do so.” In response one of Singer’s employees filled out Olivia’s application for her.
5. Felicity Huffman’s Email
One of the most damning pieces of evidence when it comes to Felicity Huffman’s involvement with Singer is an email exchanged when the actress hit a snag when trying to get her daughter “more time.” As mentioned, Singer would instruct the parents to convince schools that their children needed to take their ACT or SAT exams separately which would allow the cheating to take place, but Huffman became worried when one of her daughter’s teachers offered to proctor a private exam. “Ruh Ro! Looks like [my daughter’s high school] wants to provide own proctor,” Huffman wrote in an email to Singer in October 2017. Huffman was able to convince the teacher to have her daughter take the exam elsewhere and “Ultimately, Huffman’s daughter received a score of 1420 in the SAT, an improvement of approximately 400 points over her PSAT,” the complaint reads.
4. Others Involved
While Huffman and Loughlin and their spouses are by far the most recognizable names of the 50 indicted, there are many more of the rich and powerful involved. Others involved include: Bill McGlashan a co-founder of STX Entertainment and Evolution Media, Jane Buckingham, founder and CEO of the Beverly Hills-based boutique marketing firm Trendera, and Elisabeth Kimmel, owner and president of Midwest Television, and Devin Sloane, a wealthy businessman. Of the 50 indicted, 33 are parents, and others are those on the receiving end of the bribes. Coaches who have now been indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering, include: former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, former USC women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin, USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic, UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo, Wake Forest women’s volleyball coach William Ferguson, and more.
3. Felicity Huffman Pleads Guilty
On April 8, 2019, just under a month after the scandal broke Felicity Huffman along with 13 other defendants announced their intention to plead guilty in the case. Along with her plea, Huffman released a statement accepting full responsibility for her actions. “I am pleading guilty to the charge brought against me by the United States Attorney’s Office,” she wrote. “I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions. I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community,” she continued. “I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly. My daughter knew absolutely nothing about my actions, and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her. This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life. My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty.”
2. What Now?
William H. Macy was seen entering court on Wednesday, March 13 and appeared before a court. Meanwhile Lori Loughlin turned herself in on Wednesday, March 13 after returning from Canada where she was filming a Hallmark movie. One day later, Hallmark Channel cut all ties with the actress and she lost her upcoming films as well as her starring role on When Calls the Heart. While Huffman agreed to plead guilty and released a statement, things only got worse for Loughlin when she rejected a plea deal and hours later was hit with an additional charge for money laundering.
1. What Are The Consequences?
Officially, Huffman and Loughlin are being charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud, according to the unsealed indictment. According to Deadline “the charges could see Huffman and Loughlin behind bars for up to five years,” but that is highly unlikely. It is assumed they will try to enter a plea deal and as of right now the actual time they would see behind bars “is unclear.” With Loughlin’s additional charge of money laundering, there is a possibility she could see up to 21 years in prison, but that again is “unlikely.”