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Elite Scheme: Parents Paid Coaches, Administrators To Get Kids Into Top Schools

If you’ve ever wondered why your gifted child, or that of someone you know, wasn’t able to get into an elite school as a student-athlete, federal prosecutors have come up with a pretty good reason.

Your competition has been paying for the privilege.

The FBI and federal prosecutors say a massive bribery scheme designed to get kids into schools and help them cheat on entrance exams like the SATs, has been exposed.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston claims 50 people, including college coaches, actresses and CEOs, paid $25 million to get their kids into tough-to-get-into places such as Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, Texas, Wake Forest and Yale. The DOJ said over 200 agents worked on the case, spanning six states.

“The parents are the prime movers of this fraud,” Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said Tuesday. “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.”

Blame this guy: William “Rick” Singer. He’s a California admissions consultant and he’s scheduled to plead guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy.

Lori Loughlin

(Photo by Phillip Faraone/WireImage)

Many big names have been brought down by this scandal. Do you know anyone who has played for or been associated with Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, former Yale women’s soccer coach; Donna Heinel, USC senior associate athletic director; Ali Khosroshahin, former USC women’s soccer coach; Jovan Vavic, USC women’s water polo coach; William Ferguson, Wake Forest volleyball coach; John Vandemoer, Stanford sailing coach or Gordie Ernst, former men’s and women’s tennis coach at Georgetown.

And who has been paying to get into these schools? Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and Lori Loughlin (“Full House”) were among 33 parents who did so, according to the indictment. They are now in custody facing conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

We’re not talking about a few thousand dollars here. Some of these parents spent up to $6.5 million to get their kids in. That’s why authorities are calling it the biggest college admission scam the U.S. Department of Justice has ever handled.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Lelling said.

Singer ran a for-profit college counseling and preparatory business. Through it, he identified and recruited coaches willing to be bribed to help kids gain admission.

And for an eight-year period from 2011-19, Singer worked with partners to figure out a way to get a guy named Mark Riddell of Florida, likely with a sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga pencil in hand, to either take ACT and SAT tests in place of kids or swap their wrong responses for correct ones.

How could something like that be arranged? Proctors in Houston and Los Angeles were paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per test to allow someone else to take the exams. Riddell got $10,000 for each test he took or changed.

Singer obviously also found people willing to pay coaches and college administrators to help their children. The coaches allegedly told admission offices these students were recruits, even if they had two left feet.

“The charges brought forth today are troubling and should be a concern for all of higher education,” the NCAA said in a statement Tuesday. “We are looking into these allegations to determine the extent to which NCAA rules may have been violated.”

Meredith, who coached women’s soccer at Yale for 24 years, is accused of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud. He toyed with a student’s profile, falsely identified her as co-captain of an elite club soccer team in Southern California. The kid never played the sport.

This is important because schools like Yale have different standards for recruiting student-athletes. They are often accepted with lower test scores and grades. The practice is so widely accepted that admissions departments hold spots for kids like this in each freshman class.

Federal prosecutors allege Meredith met with the father of a second Yale applicant in Boston in  April 2018. The meeting was recorded: Meredith told the parent that he’d recruit the student in exchange for $450,000.

“Beginning in or about 2011, and continuing through the present, the defendants — principally individuals whose high-school-age children were applying to college — conspired with others to use bribery and other forms of fraud to facilitate their children’s admission to colleges and universities in the District of Massachusetts and elsewhere, including Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California, and the University of Southern California — Los Angeles,” the indictment said.