TV Stars Charged In College Bribery Scheme
Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have been charged along with nearly 50 other people in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centres to help get their children into elite schools in the country, US federal prosecutors say.
"These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege," US Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $US25 million ($A35 million) federal bribery case.
He called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the US Justice Department.
At least nine athletic coaches and dozens of parents were among those charged.
A total of 46 people were arrested by midday on Tuesday, including Huffman and Loughlin, in an investigation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, federal authorities said.
Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes, to alter test scores and to have others take online classes to boost their children's chances of getting into schools.
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Parents spent anywhere from $US200,000 to $US6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission, officials said.
"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.
The schools themselves are not targets of the investigation, he said.
No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the students were not aware of the fraud.
The coaches worked at such schools as Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles.
A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.
Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, tennis and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience. That, in turn, boosted the students' chances of admission.
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The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in California. Authorities said parents paid the founder of the Edge College & Career Network approximately $US25 million to get their children into college.
Loughlin appeared in the ABC sitcom Full House, and Huffman starred in ABC's Desperate Housewives. Both were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.
Court documents said Huffman paid $US15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the college entrance cheating scam.
Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained the scam to them.
The co-operator told investigators that Huffman and her spouse "agreed to the plan".
Meanwhile the charges mounting against Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, involve up to US$500k being allegedly spent in the scheme to secure their two daughters a place at USC.
"The Guannullis agreed to a 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," an affidavit states.
Huffman and Giannulli have been taken into custody, meanwhile a warrant is out for Loughlin's arrest - as she is currently out of the country.