Hollywood actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among 50 people charged by U.S. federal prosecutors on Tuesday in a $25-million US scheme to help wealthy Americans cheat their children’s way into elite universities such as Yale and Stanford.
Federal prosecutors in Boston charged William (Rick) Singer, 58, with running the racketeering scheme through his Edge College & Career Network, which served a roster of clients, including CEOs and Hollywood actors.
Prosecutors said Singer’s operation arranged for fake testers to take college admissions exams in place of his clients’ children, and also bribed coaches to give admissions slots meant to be reserved for recruited athletes, even if the applicants had no athletic ability.
Parents paid tens of thousands of dollars for Singer’s services, which were masked as charitable contributions, prosecutors said.
Singer is scheduled to plead guilty on Tuesday in Boston federal court to charges, including racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice, according to court papers. He could not be reached for immediate comment.
Some 33 parents, including Huffman and Loughlin, were charged, as well as 13 coaches and associates of Singer’s business.
The FBI says 13 defendants have been taken into custody in the Los Angeles area, including Huffman. Loughlin was not taken into custody Tuesday morning. Her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was arrested at their home.
Officials say initial court appearances are planned Tuesday afternoon.
Court documents say Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so her daughter could partake in the college entrance cheating scam.
Papers say a co-operating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their L.A. home and explained the scam to them. The co-operator told investigators that Huffman and her spouse “agreed to the plan.”
Macy has not been charged; authorities haven’t said why.
Huffman and Loughlin were not immediately available for comment.
How alleged scheme worked
On a call with one parent, prosecutors said Singer summed up his business: “What we do is help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school … my families want a guarantee.”
The scheme began in 2011, prosecutors said, and also helped children get into the University of Texas, Georgetown University, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Part of the scheme involved advising parents to pretend to test administrators that their child had learning disabilities that allowed them extended time to take the exam.
The parents were then advised to choose one of two test centres that Singer’s company said it had control over: one in Houston and the other in West Hollywood, Calif.
The test administrators in those centres took bribes to allow Singer’s clients to cheat, often by arranging to have a student’s wrong answers corrected after completing the exam, or having another person take the exam.
In many cases, the students were not aware that their parents had arranged for the cheating, prosecutors said.
John Vandemoor, a former Stanford sailing coach, is also scheduled to plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges.
This story originally appeared on CBC