From the Wall Street Journal: Federal Prosecutors Charge Dozens in College Admissions Cheating Scheme

From the New York Times: College Admissions Scandal: Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged

1) This is the biggest college admissions scandal of the last 20 years. Crazy stuff!

2) Alas (???), there is not (yet?) a Williams connection, unless someone can identify an Eph in this list of the (so far!) indicted.

3) I could spend a week or two parsing these articles and connecting them to various EphBlog themes. Worth it?

Full articles below the break:

WSJ:

Federal Prosecutors Charge Dozens in College Admissions Cheating Scheme
Charges involve cheating on college entrance exams, efforts to bribe coaches; Actresses Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin among those indicted

By Melissa Korn and
Jennifer Levitz
Updated March 12, 2019 4:45 p.m. ET

BOSTON—Federal prosecutors charged dozens of wealthy parents, including prominent figures in law and business and two Hollywood actresses, with using bribes, bogus entrance-exam scores and faked athletic achievements to get their children admitted to elite colleges.

Actresses Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” and Lori Loughlin from “Full House” were among those charged in the alleged scheme that authorities say funneled at least $25 million through a fraudulent college-counseling service to gain spots at colleges including Georgetown University, Yale University, Stanford University and University of California Los Angeles.
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Prosecutors said the operation involved paying admissions-test administrators to help the students raise their test scores, by either having someone else take the test, or correcting their answers before they were submitted. Prosecutors also said some of the people conspired to bribe varsity coaches and administrators to admit their children as recruited athletes.

Prosecutors said it appeared the universities themselves weren’t involved in the scheme.

Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Boston field office, said Tuesday that those charged established a “culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for students trying to get into these schools the right way, through hard work, good grades and community service.”

A representative for Ms. Loughlin declined to comment. Ms. Huffman, who is expected to appear in court later Tuesday, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The college-counseling consultant, William Singer, pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering conspiracy and other crimes. He allegedly facilitated the fraud through Newport Beach, Calif.-based the Edge College & Career Network LLC.

The criminal case illustrates the lengths to which some parents will go to help their children gain admission to elite colleges, seen as a ticket to society’s upper echelons.

Many selective schools boast record high application volume and record low admission rates—in the low single digits at Stanford and some Ivy League institutions. Looking for an edge, many families sign up their children for pricey test-prep programs, rely on influential family friends to write glowing recommendation letters and donate to their own alma maters.

In a 10-month investigation, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department uncovered what they say was a sprawling plot. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the investigation remained active and that more parents and coaches could be charged.

Coaches and at least one administrator participated, prosecutors said. Those charged with racketeering included the former head men’s and women’s tennis coach at Georgetown, a senior associate athletic director, water polo and women’s soccer coaches at the University of Southern California, the men’s soccer coach at UCLA and the Wake Forest University women’s volleyball coach.

John Vandemoer, former head sailing coach at Stanford University, was expected to plead guilty to racketeering Tuesday afternoon.

Since the indictment was filed Tuesday morning, Stanford fired Mr. Vandemoer, UCLA placed its men’s head soccer coach on leave, Wake Forest put its head volleyball coach on administrative leave and retained outside counsel, USC announced an internal investigation and a broad review of its admissions processes, and the University of Texas in Austin placed its men’s tennis coach on administrative leave. Yale said it would continue to cooperate with the investigation.

Prosecutors said the head women’s soccer coach at Yale accepted a $400,000 bribe in exchange for admitting a candidate as a recruited athlete. The student didn’t even play competitive soccer, according to prosecutors. After the student was admitted, her parents paid a college admissions consultant $1.2 million.

Officials said the parents spared no expense, with Mr. Lelling saying they paid Mr. Singer, the consultant, “donations” of between $200,000 and $6.5 million for his services, with the most common payment between $200,000 and $400,000.

Mr. Singer offered parents two types of fraudulent services, Mr. Lelling said. He allegedly accepted payments in exchange for arrangements under which some of the teens could sit for the SAT or ACT college-entrance exams with extra time by getting doctor’s notes detailing learning disabilities or other issues. He also allegedly set up the teens so they could take the tests with proctors who had been bribed to either correct wrong answers or take the test on the student’s behalf.

Mr. Singer “would discuss with clients what kind of score they are looking for,” Mr. Lelling said. Mr. Singer would then instruct the test taker “to get that score. He was good enough to do it,” Mr. Lelling said.

“Today’s arrests … send a clear message that those who facilitate cheating on the SAT—regardless of their income or status—will be held accountable,” the College Board, which administers the SAT, said in a statement.

While courting parents to join the scheme, Mr. Singer allegedly addressed the reality that elite college admissions isn’t just a matter of merit, but said other avenues to securing an acceptance letter could be more expensive and weren’t a sure thing.

“There is a front door which means you get in on your own. The back door is through institutional advancement, which is ten times as much money. And I’ve created this side door in,” he said in a June 2018 phone call with Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of New York law firm Willkie Farr, according to a transcript of the recorded call included in court documents.

Mr. Caplan allegedly paid Mr. Singer $75,000 to have another person take the ACT for his daughter in December, asking that she get a score in the low 30s out of a possible 36.

Mr. Caplan said in another recorded call in July, “I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”

Mr. Caplan couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Mr. Singer also allegedly helped parents work with coaches to claim admission spots reserved for recruited athletes, staging photos of the teens playing sports or photo-shopping images of the teens’ faces onto stock photos of young athletes.

The coaches who allegedly received payments then used the athletic profiles to persuade others at the schools to admit the students, Mr. Lelling said.

Mr. Singer had longtime personal connections to coaches and was good at “calibrating fake credentials to appear realistic but not so good” they would invite scrutiny, Mr. Lelling said.

Mr. Lelling said most of the coaches both gave money to their sports programs and kept some for themselves.

According to court records, during the summer of 2017 and the following May, Mr. Vandemoer, the Stanford head sailing coach, agreed to designate two of Mr. Singer’s clients as recruits in return for payments, including one of $500,000, to the Stanford sailing program.

Neither student ended up going to Stanford, but Mr. Singer still allegedly paid $160,000 to the sailing program, according to prosecutors. Mr. Vandemoer agreed with Mr. Singer that the payment “would serve as a ‘deposit’ for a future student’s purported recruitment,” the federal documents allege.

In a statement Tuesday, Stanford said Mr. Vandemoer has been terminated. “Neither student came to Stanford,” the statement said. “However, the alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford’s values.” The school said it has been cooperating with the investigation.

Prosecutors alleged that charitable organizations were used as fronts for bribes. Parents made the payments in the form of donations to Mr. Singer’s nonprofit organization, Key Worldwide Foundation, prosecutors aid.

Greg Abbott, CEO of International Dispensing Corp. , and his wife, Marcia, were both charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Mr. Abbott said his family had spoken to the FBI about the alleged cheating scandal, and on Tuesday called the situation “insane.”

According to an affidavit filed in the case, Mr. Abbott allegedly made a $50,000 donation to Mr. Singer’s charity last April in exchange for having someone correct their daughter’s answers after she finished taking the ACT. Prosecutors said the money was wired from an Abbott Family Foundation brokerage account.

Another donation, this time for $75,000, was made in September, allegedly in exchange for helping the daughter cheat on SAT mathematics and literature subject tests.

“Literally, we were involved with this guy for our daughter to help out with college counseling and he gets f— arrested,” he said. “We didn’t know he was doing this s—.”

Mr. Abbott said the counseling service had a “sketchy setup” in hindsight but had been recommended to the family.

“A network of New York City mothers use this guy and they all say he’s the best,” he said. “He ruined chances of kids getting into school who did years and years of work to get into school on their own.”

Also charged was Bill McGlashan, founder and managing partner of TPG Growth, the arm of the private-equity firm that invests in fast-growing companies, including Airbnb Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. TPG did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

NYT:

Fifty people in six states were accused by the Justice Department on Tuesday of taking part in a major college admission scandal. They include Hollywood actresses, business leaders and elite college coaches.

By Jennifer Medina and Katie Benner

March 12, 2019

Federal prosecutors charged dozens of people on Tuesday in a major college admission scandal that involved wealthy parents, including Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders, paying bribes to get their children into elite American universities.

Thirty-three parents were charged in the case and prosecutors said there could be additional indictments to come. Also implicated were top college coaches, who were accused of accepting millions of dollars to help admit students to Wake Forest, Yale, Stanford, the University of Southern California and other schools, regardless of their academic or sports ability, officials said.

The parents included the television star Lori Loughlin and her husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli; the actress Felicity Huffman; and William E. McGlashan Jr., a partner at the private equity firm TPG, officials said.

The case unveiled Tuesday was stunning in its breadth and audacity. It was the Justice Department’s largest ever college admissions prosecution, a sprawling investigation that involved 200 agents nationwide and resulted in charges against 50 people in six states.

The charges also underscored how college admissions have become so cutthroat and competitive that some have sought to break the rules. The authorities say the parents of some of the nation’s wealthiest and most privileged students sought to buy spots for their children at top universities, not only cheating the system, but potentially cheating other hard-working students out of a chance at a college education.

In many of the cases, prosecutors said, the students were often not aware that their parents were doctoring their test scores and lying to get them into school.

“The parents are the prime movers of this fraud,” Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said Tuesday during a news conference. Mr. Lelling said that those parents used their wealth to create a separate and unfair admissions process for their children.

But, Mr. Lelling said, “there will not be a separate criminal justice system” for them.

“The real victims in this case are the hardworking students,” who were displaced in the admissions process by “far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in,” Mr. Lelling said.

“This is an extreme, unsubtle and illegal example of the increasingly common practice of using money to get an edge in the race for a place in an elite university,” said Christopher Hunt, who runs College Essay Mentor, a consulting service for applicants. “The more common practice is to spend money in indirect ways: High-priced test prep. Coaches so your kid can be a recruited athlete. Donations as an alum. Donations as a non-alum.”

At the center of the sweeping financial crime and fraud case was William Singer, the founder of a college preparatory business called the Edge College & Career Network, also known as The Key. Federal prosecutors did not charge any students or universities with wrongdoing.

The authorities said Mr. Singer, who has agreed to plead guilty to the charges and cooperated with federal prosecutors, used The Key and its nonprofit arm, Key Worldwide Foundation, which is based in Newport Beach, Calif., to help students cheat on their standardized tests, and to pay bribes to the coaches who could get them into college with fake athletic credentials.

Mr. Singer used “The Key” as a front, allowing parents to funnel money into an account that would not have to pay federal taxes.

Parents paid Mr. Singer about $25 million from 2011 until February 2019 to bribe coaches and university administrators to designate their children as recruited athletes, which effectively ensured their admission, according to the indictment.

Mr. Singer is also accused of bribing Division 1 athletic coaches to tell admissions officers that they wanted certain students, even though the students did not have the necessary athletic credentials.

Most elite universities recruit student athletes and use different criteria to admit them, often with lower grades and standardized test scores than other students. Admissions officers typically set aside a number of spots in each freshman class for coaches to recruit students to their teams.

“At each of the universities the admissions prospects of recruited athletes are higher — and in some cases significantly higher — than those of non-recruited athletes with similar grades and standardized test scores,” the indictment said.

Mr. Singer also helped parents go to great lengths to falsely present their children as the sort of top-flight athletes that coaches would want to recruit.

Mr. Singer fabricated athletic “profiles” of students to submit with their applications, which contained teams the students had not played on and fake honors they had not won. Some parents supplied “staged photographs of their children engaged in athletic activity,” according to the authorities; and Mr. Singer’s associates also photoshopped the faces of the applicants onto images of athletes found on the internet.

In one example detailed in an indictment, the parents of a student applying to Yale paid Mr. Singer $1.2 million to help her get admitted. The student, who did not play soccer, was described as the co-captain of a prominent club soccer team in Southern California in order to be recruited for the Yale women’s soccer team. The coach of the Yale soccer team was bribed at least $400,000 to recruit the student.

“This girl will be a midfielder and attending Yale so she has to be very good,” Mr. Singer wrote in an email detailing instructions, adding that he would need “a soccer pic probably Asian girl.”

After the profile was created, Mr. Singer sent the fake profile to Rudolph Meredith, the head coach of the women’s soccer team at Yale, who then designated her as a recruit, even though he knew the student did not play competitive soccer, according to the complaint.

In its investigation, known internally as Operation Varsity Blues, the government focused on the role that it said the 33 indicted parents played in a scandal that also ensnared two standardized test administrators, a test proctor, and more than a dozen coaches at top schools including the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California.

Those parents were willing to pay between $15,000 and $75,000 per test, which went to college entrance exam administrators who helped their children cheat on them by giving them answers, correcting their work or even letting third parties falsely pose as their children and take the tests in their stead, according to the indictment.

Mr. Singer instructed at least one parent, Mr. McGlashan, the partner at TPG, to claim that his son had learning disabilities in order to gain extended time for him to take his college entrance exam alone, over two days instead of one, according to court documents.

The government said that Mr. McGlashan’s son was told to take the exam at one of two test centers where Mr. Singer worked with test administrators who had been bribed to allow students to cheat — one in Houston and one in West Hollywood. And Mr. Singer told Mr. McGlashan to fabricate a reason, such as a wedding, for why their children would need to take the test in one of those locations.

Mr. McGlashan’s son was unaware of the scheme, according to court documents.

A spokesman for Mr. McGlashan and for TPG did not respond to an email seeking comment.

When Mr. Singer explained the scheme last June to Gordon R. Caplan, co-chairman of the global law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Mr. Caplan laughed and said, “And it works?” according to a transcript of a recorded phone conversation between the two men captured in a court-authorized wiretap.

During the phone call, Mr. Singer told Mr. Caplan that nearly 800 other families had used what he called “side doors” to get their children into college. “What we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school,” Mr. Singer said. “They want guarantees, they want this thing done.”

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

Mr. Singer told Mr. Caplan that his daughter wouldn’t know that her standardized test scores had been faked.

“Nobody knows what happens,” Mr. Singer said, according to the transcript of the call. “She feels great about herself. She got a test a score, and now you’re actually capable for help getting into a school. Because the test score’s no longer an issue. Does that make sense?”

“That does,” Mr. Caplan said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Caplan and Willkie Farr did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Mr. Lelling, the United States attorney, said that the first lead in the case came when the target of an entirely separate investigation gave prosecutors a tip that the bribery and cheating might be occurring.

Universities were quick to respond on Tuesday. According to the indictment, Stanford University’s head sailing coach, John Vandemoer, took financial contributions to the sailing program from an intermediary in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission.

Stanford said Tuesday that Mr. Vandemoer had been fired.

“Neither student came to Stanford,” the statement said. “However, the alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford’s values.”

In a tweet, USC Trojans, the official Twitter account of the University of Southern California athletic department, said that the university was cooperating with the government’s investigation.

It said the university was identifying any funds received in connection with the scheme, an apparent reference to bribery. And it said the university would “take employment actions as appropriate” and was reviewing its admissions process to make sure that nothing like this could happen in the future.

In a letter to the university community, Wanda M. Austin, the interim president of the University of Southern California, said, “It is immensely disappointing that individuals would abuse their position at the university this way.”

Dr. Austin said she did not believe that admissions officers were aware of the scheme or took part in it, and she described the university as a victim. “The federal government has alleged that U.S.C. is a victim in a scheme perpetrated against the university by a longtime Athletics Department employee, one current coach and three former coaching staff,” she said.

In an interview, Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, a college and university trade group, said, “If these allegations are true, they violate the essential premise of a fair and transparent college admissions process.”

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