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Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin among those charged in college admissions scandal

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  • Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin among those charged in college admissions scandal

    Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin among those charged in college admissions scandal

    Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and a slew of chief executives are among 50 wealthy people charged in the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, federal officials said Tuesday.
    Those indicted in the investigation, dubbed "Varsity Blues," allegedly paid bribes of up to $6 million to get their children into elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.
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    "This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud," Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said at a news conference.
    "There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy and, I'll add, there will not be a separate criminal justice system either," Lelling said.
    Ringleader to plead guilty

    According to Lelling, the ringleader of the scam is William Singer, owner of a college counseling service called Key Worldwide Foundation, who accepted bribes totaling $25 million from parents between 2011 and 2018 "to guarantee their children's admission to elite schools."
    Singer is expected to plead guilty in a Boston federal court on Tuesday on charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice, Lelling said.
    Those charged in the probe include nine coaches at elite schools, two SAT and ACT exam administrators, one exam proctor, a college administrator and 33 parents, including Huffman and Loughlin.
    "The parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," Lelling said. "They include, for example, the CEOs of private and public companies, successful securities and real estate investors, two well-known actresses, a famous fashion designer and the co-chairman of a global law firm."
    Also named as defendants in the indictment are Robert Zangrillo, founder and CEO of the private investment firm Dragon Global; Bill Glashan, a businessman and international private equity investor; and Gordon Caplan, a New York attorney.
    Fake athletic credentials

    He said in many of the cases, Singer allegedly bribed the coaches, who "agreed to pretend that certain applicants were recruited competitive athletes when, in fact, the applicants were not."
    Lelling said the coaches allegedly "knew the students' athletic credentials had been fabricated."
    He said Singer allegedly worked with the parents to "fabricate profiles for their kids, including fake athletic credential and honors, or fake participation in elite club teams."
    Singer allegedly even had parents stage photos or Photoshopped pictures of their children participating in sports.
    Singer also arranged for a student to take the SAT and ACT exams individually with a proctor in Texas or California he had bribed, Lelling said.
    In one case highlighted by federal prosecutors, the head women’s soccer coach at Yale University was paid $400,000 to accept a student even though the applicant did not play soccer. The parents of that student had paid Singer $1.2 million.
    Other elite schools named in the scam were the University of Texas, UCLA and Wake Forest.
    Joe Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Field Office, said 300 special agents fanned out across the country early Tuesday and arrested 38 people. He said seven other suspects were working to surrender to authorities and one is being actively pursued.
    Huffman was arrested at her home in Los Angeles, while Loughlin, who is in Canada, had yet to be taken into custody, sources told ABC News.
    School officials react

    USC President Wanda M. Austin addressed the scandal in a letter to the university community.
    "The federal government has alleged that USC is a victim in a scheme perpetrated against the university by a long-time Athletics Department employee, one current coach and three former coaching staff, who were allegedly involved in a college admissions scheme and have been charged by the government on multiple charges," Austin wrote.
    Austin vowed to take "appropriate employment action" against school employees involved in the scam and will review admissions decisions.
    "It is immensely disappointing that individuals would abuse their position at the university in this way," Austin's letter reads. "We will continue to cooperate fully with all law enforcement regulatory investigations."
    Wake Forest officials also released a statement saying the North Carolina school's head volleyball coach was one of the defendants indicted.
    "The university has retained outside legal counsel to look into this matter," the Wake Forest statement said. "Wake Forest has placed Ferguson on administrative leave."
    The nationwide scheme was prosecuted in Boston partly because it was uncovered by FBI agents working on an unrelated case, officials said. Fake test scores were submitted to Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern University, officials said, but none of those schools were named in the indictment.
    In most cases the students did not know their admission was contingent on a bribe, officials said.
    According to the charging papers, Huffman "made a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 ... to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter."
    Bribes disguised as charitable contributions

    "Huffman later made arrangements to pursue the scheme a second time, for her younger daughter, before deciding not to do so," the documents allege.
    Federal agents secretly recorded telephone calls with Huffman and a cooperating witness, according to the court papers.
    The documents say Loughlin -- best known for her role as Aunt Becky on the ABC sitcom "Full House" -- and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, "agreed to pay bribes totaling $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 -- thereby facilitating their admission to USC."
    Federal agents obtained emails from Loughlin implicating her in the scam, according to the documents.
    Federal authorities ultimately had three cooperating witnesses to help them build their case.
    "Today's arrests should be a warning to others: You can't pay to play, you can't cheat to get ahead because you will get caught," Bonavolonta said,