College Admissions Scandal

March 12, 2019: the FBI charged more than fifty people with helping students cheat on their ACT and/or SAT exams, bribing coaches or other school officials, and falsifying school records to get accepted into universities such as Yale, Georgetown, and the University of Southern California.

Case Development

A little over a year ago, FBI officers had accidentally discovered the bribery plot while working on an unrelated undercover operation. Since then, it has developed into, as U. S. Attorney Andrew Lelling stated, one of the largest college admission scandals ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud,” Lelling said.     

Of the fifty people that were charged in scheme involvement, thirty-three of them were parents, including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin. Both actresses are out on bail. Laughlin’s trial in Boston is going to be held next week, while Huffman’s trial is set for next month.  

According to the Washington Post, since this investigation is ongoing, more people could be charged.

Man Behind the Scam

William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network and the mastermind behind the scheme, pleaded guilty in federal court on March 12. He pedaled bribery disguised as a charity for wealthy parents to use for admission into prestigious universities.

From 2011 to 2018, Singer had taken $25 million in bribes. He used most of that money to pay college coaches and standardized-testing officials to rig the admissions process.

Part of Singer’s process involved rigging the admissions process by altering students’ standardized testing scores. Since he was well-connected with people involved in grading those tests, he would pay them to make the scores better. He would either fix the scores after the student was done taking the test, or he would pay to have a stand-in take the test for the student.

Another tactic Singer used was to make fake athletic profiles. With his help, parents were able to create athletic profiles for their students. Someone could claim their son or daughter played in a sports team in high school when in reality, they didn’t. A student’s face would be photoshopped into a sports photo, coaches would be bribed, and they could be considered athletes without     

Singer also allegedly held this money in a nonprofit organization called the Key Worldwide Foundation, which had been described by prosecutors as a “slush fund for bribery.” He had encouraged parents to “donate” to this organization for guaranteeing their children entrance to college. Most of those parents were able to deduct their donation through their income taxes.

Singer was charged for racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, as well as obstruction of justice because of him alerting clients about the impending investigation. If not for his cooperation with the investigators, the maximum sentence he could receive is sixty-five years in prison.                 

Legislative Response

On March 13, 2019, just a day after the scandal broke out, Democrat Senator Ron Wyden announced he would introduce legislation that proposed an end to tax cuts on wealthy who contributed to colleges and universities with taxpayer money.

“Middle-class families don’t have access to this back door for their children,” Wyden said. “If the wealthy want to grease the skids, they shouldn’t be able to do so at the expense of American taxpayers.”  

On March 19, 2019, Reps. Mark Green (Republican) and Vicente Gonzalez (Democrat) planned to spearhead a new bill in the scandal’s wake. This bill would allow students to make “income share agreements” on paying or repaying tuition with the school of their choice.

Both representatives hope that through this bill it would lessen the financial burden on students, and it would have universities be more eager to compromise and help get students through college.