A nationwide college-admissions bribery case has snared dozens of the country’s rich and famous in criminal indictments announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice. The case revolves around alleged bribes to college entrance exam officials, athletics coaches and other administrators at some of the nation’s most elite universities, including Stanford University.
The illegal payments, about $25 million over several years, were made in exchange for help cheating on college entrance exams or to falsely claim that the defendants’ children were athletes deserving of admission, according to federal prosecutors in Boston. “There will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy. And there will not be a separate criminal justice system either,” said Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
In addition to Stanford, the schools named in the indictments include Georgetown University, University of Southern California, University of California Los Angeles, University of San Diego, Yale University and the University of Texas Austin. On Tuesday, Stanford’s head sailing coach John Vandemoer agreed to plead guilty to racketeering charges in federal court in Boston over allegations that he took $160,000 in bribes to falsely identify two prospective students as recruits to the school’s sailing team, according to Department of Justice spokeswoman Christina DiIorio-Sterling.
University officials released a statement saying they are cooperating with federal investigators and that Vandemoer has been fired. Neither of the students who are alleged to be the subject of the scam ever actually attended the school, according to university officials. “Based on the Department of Justice investigation to date, we have no evidence that the alleged conduct involves anyone else at Stanford or is associated with any other team,” school officials said. “However, we will be undertaking an internal review to confirm that.”
Thirty-three of the defendants are identified as wealthy parents accused of making the bribes. All are facing racketeering charges and nearly all were arrested and are expected to appear in various federal courts around the country Tuesday, DiIorio said. The parents include a veritable who’s-who of the country’s wealthy elite, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, Napa Valley winery owner Agustin Huneeus Jr. and William McGlashan Jr., a senior executive at the global equity firm TPG in San Francisco. Huffman, who appeared on the television show “Desperate Housewives,” is accused of shelling out $15,000 as part of an alleged entrance-test cheating scam. Loughlin, of TV’s “Full House,” and her husband Mossimo Giannulli are said to have paid $500,000 “in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team, despite the fact that they did not participate in crew,” according to court filings unsealed Tuesday.
The defendants are typically alleged to have paid the man at the center of the legal case, William Singer of Newport Beach, Calif., between $15,000 and $75,000 per falsified test. Singer then used “the facade of a charitable organization” to pass on payments to test administrators, according to federal prosecutors. Singer also allegedly paid off coaches and university administrators to designate his clients’ children as “recruited athletes,” according to court documents. Singer, who is charged with racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of justice, is also expected to plead guilty Tuesday, DiIorio-Sterlig said. Other defendants include university and private coaches, including the former head coach of USC’s women’s soccer team and the former head coach of the men’s soccer team at UCLA, as well as college entrance exam test administrators.
In all, 50 people around the country were charged in the alleged cheating and recruitment scam.