DOJ Announces Arrests in Nationwide College Admissions Scam Involving Alleged Exam Cheating

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts – which represents the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on all federal legal matters in the state – has announced that “dozens of individuals involved in a nationwide conspiracy that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and the admission of students to elite universities as purported athletic recruits were arrested by federal agents in multiple states.”

DOJ College Admissions Scam

The people arrested were charged in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts and included Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), actresses, university athletic coaches, college exam administrators, parents, and athletic coaches from Yale University, Stanford University, University of Southern California (USC), Wake Forest University, and Georgetown University, among others, according to a press release dated March 12, 2019.

The DOJ charged William “Rick” Singer – who owned and operated a for-profit college counseling and preparation business – with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and obstruction of justice for allegedly conspiring with dozens of parents, athletic coaches, and a university athletics administrator to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of students to elite colleges and universities.

The DOJ claimed that Singer stated during a phone call with a parent: “Okay, so, who we are…what we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school…My families want a guarantee. So, if you said to me ‘here’s our grades, here’s our scores, here’s our ability, and we want to go to X school’ and you give me one or two schools, and then I’ll go after those schools and try to get a guarantee done.”

The DOJ also charged the head sailing coach at Stanford, the former head soccer coach at Yale, the head coach of men’s tennis at the University of Texas, a counselor at a private school in Florida , as well as 33 parents of students and 13 coaches and associates of Singer – including two Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) test administrators – for their involvement in the scheme.

The alleged conspiracy – which lasted from 2011 to 2019 – involved bribing exam administrators to allow others to secretly take college entrance exams in place of students or to correct student answers after the exam, bribing university athletic coaches and administrators to help admit some students as recruited athletes, and using Singer’s charitable organization to conceal the nature and source of bribes.

The charges filed include racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Two of the defendants charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with the alleged scam were the actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, both from Los Angeles, California. Huffman is best known for her role on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) TV series “Desperate Housewives” while Loughlin appeared on the hit ABC sitcom “Full House.”

U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, who represents the DOJ on all federal legal matters in the District of Massachusetts, helped to make the announcement with others involved in the investigation. The details contained in the charging documents are allegations and all of the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This is not the first time the DOJ has looked into alleged education fraud. In December 2016, the DOJ filed a criminal complaint that charged a Pakistani executive with running a worldwide diploma mill scheme that collected $140 million from tens of thousands of consumers. Umair Hamid, of Karachi, Pakistan, pled guilty, was sentenced to 21 months in prison, and was ordered to forfeit over $5 million.

College Admissions Scam Shows Need for Education Background Checks

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