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When federal authorities announced the indictments of 50 people in an alleged yearslong bribery and fraud scheme to get the children of wealthy parents into elite colleges, the spotlight was on two of the defendants, actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. They were, after all, celebrities, and most of the others named were unknown to the public, although in many cases prominent in fields including law, private equity and sports. After the schadenfreude has worn off, attention turns to the broader significance of the scandal, and what it says about America’s hypercompetitive, winner-take-almost-all culture. For that, it’s useful to dig deeper into some of the other people implicated in the scheme, either as direct participants who allegedly profited from it, or parents who paid as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars to give their children a leg up in life.
William “Rick” Singer
Authorities referred to Singer, 58, as the “mastermind” of the operation, and on Tuesday he pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of justice. He ran the Newport Beach, Calif.-based Key Worldwide Foundation, a front for an elaborate scheme of standardized test fraud and bribery registered at the address of his $1.5 million home. According to the Los Angeles Times, under his plea agreement Singer will forfeit his charity’s investments in Swansea Football Club, a chain of fast-casual Mexican restaurants, a Texas data company, a Santa Monica private equity fund and an Oakland basketball facility. He will also give up two bank accounts held by the charity and pay a $3.4 million forfeiture judgment. Singer is listed in the court filing as Cooperating Witness 1 and worked with authorities for months before Tuesday’s arrests.
He also faces as much as 65 years in prison, according to NBC, although he presumably is eligible for a large reduction in his sentence in exchange for his cooperation.
In 2014, Singer published two volumes of a “Getting In” book series in which he promised “easy to understand and simple to follow steps to improve the odds of getting in to the college of your choosing.” The second volume stressed the importance of a personal brand in the application process.
Buckingham runs the California-based boutique marketing firm Trendera and is accused of mail fraud for paying $50,000 to get her son a higher score on the ACT. When authorities had Singer call Buckingham back, she said she would “probably like to do the same thing” for her daughter, who in her opinion was “not a great test taker.” In 2010, Buckingham published “The Modern Girl’s Guide to Sticky Situations.” Buckingham’s daughter has a popular Instagram presence, with over 1.4 million followers and a deal to write a book titled “Influence.”
Last May on the elder Buckingham’s personal account, she reportedly posted an image that said “DONT CHEAT,” along with the caption, “Apply it to all aspects of life and you’ll probably be ok.”
McGlashan, a founder and managing partner at private equity firm TPG Growth, was accused of mail fraud for allegedly paying to get his son a better score on standardized tests and then get him into University of Southern California with a bribe to get him listed as a football recruit —even though he had no football experience. McGlashan was considered an advocate for ethical investing and had partnered with U2 singer Bono on the Rise Fund, a fund managed by TPG that is said to focus on social impact investing.
TPG said Tuesday that it had placed McGlashan on “indefinite administrative leave effective immediately.” McGlashan allegedly spent $250,000 on the scheme.
Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli
Loughlin, an actress most famous for her role on “Full House,” married Giannulli, a fashion designer, in 1997. The pair are charged with mail fraud for allegedly paying a total of $500,000 to get their two daughters into USC as designated recruits for the crew team even though neither had experience rowing. Loughlin has been prolific in Hallmark Channel original movies, starring in over a dozen. Giannulli’s fashion brand, Mossimo, is sold in stores across the globe and had a long-term deal with the department store Target that ended in 2017.
Loughlin, who was flying back from Canada on Tuesday, surrendered to authorities in Los Angeles on Wednesday and was scheduled to appear in court in the afternoon. Giannulli’s bail was set at $1 million, and he turned in his passport to the court.
Gordon R. Caplan
Caplan, a resident of Greenwich, Conn., is co-chairman of the 130-year-old international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in New York. Caplan has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying $75,000 to have Singer help his daughter get a higher score on the ACT admissions test. According to officials, she was kept ignorant of the scheme. When Singer suggested having someone else pose as Caplan’s daughter to take an online high-school class, Caplan was reluctant, explaining, “It’s just, to be honest, 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.” After Singer arranged for Caplan’s daughter to be given extra time for the test, Caplan told Singer, “Keep in mind I am a lawyer, so I’m sort of rules-oriented.”
Caplan was arrested around 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday and released on a $500,000 personal recognizance bond.
Huffman is accused of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. She allegedly paid, together with her husband, $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation, for her daughter to take the SAT at a “controlled” testing center where a special proctor would correct answers without the daughter’s knowledge. Huffman was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 for her role in “Transamerica” and starred in television series “Desperate Housewives” and “Sports Night.” Huffman was arrested Tuesday morning and released on $250,000 bond.
William H. Macy, Huffman’s husband known for his roles in the movie “Fargo” and the television series “Shameless,” was also recorded by investigators discussing the plan with Singer, but was not charged in the case.
Henriquez, the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Hercules Capital, a California-based venture debt firm, was charged with mail fraud, along with his wife, Elizabeth. The pair allegedly paid Singer to help their daughters cheat on standardized tests and to bribe Georgetown coach Gordon Ernst to get the younger daughter into the Washington, D.C., university as a tennis player. The complaint alleges that the Henriquezes said their daughter Isabelle had a “Top 50 ranking” in the United States Tennis Association Junior Girls when in reality “at her best, she appears to have ranked 207th in Northern California in the under-12 girls division, with an overall win/loss record of 2-8.”
While many of the students involved in the fraud did not know their parents were cheating for them, according to federal authorities, Isabelle was aware, rewriting her admissions essay to focus on tennis and allegedly gloating along with Singer’s corrupt proctor and her mother after completing the fraudulent exam.
Vavic is the legendary coach of Southern Cal’s water polo teams, earning 16 total national titles and 15 national coach of the year awards. Vavic was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering and was arrested Tuesday in Hawaii, where the Trojans’ women’s team was playing a match. Hours later he was fired. Singer allegedly made payments to fund the water polo team and made private school tuition payments for Vavic’s children in exchange for the coach’s help in facilitating student admissions to USC.
Ernst was the longtime tennis coach at Georgetown University before resigning in June 2018 and taking a position at the University of Rhode Island. The indictment charges that Ernst accepted more than $2.7 million in bribes between 2012 and 2018, in exchange for arranging to admit at least 12 students to Georgetown as tennis recruits, including “some who did not play tennis competitively.” He was placed on administrative leave by URI, which was not implicated in the indictment.
While at Georgetown, Ernst became friendly with the Obama family, according to the Providence Journal, giving private lessons to Michelle and Malia Obama.
“Michelle has a big backhand,” Ernst told the New York Times in 2014.
If convicted, Ernst will have to forfeit the $2,719,963 in bribe payments, a Chevy Chase, Md., country club membership and property he owns in Falmouth, Mass.
Olivia Jade Giannulli
The daughter of Loughlin and Giannulli, Olivia Jade is an extremely popular beauty influencer and YouTube star, with nearly 2 million subscribers on the service. While many of the students involved in the sweep weren’t aware their parents were cheating for them, Jade allegedly posed for photos that were meant to show her interest in rowing for USC’s crew team.
She also wasn’t all that interested in attending school.
“I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend,” she said on her YouTube channel in August 2018 prior to enrolling. “But I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying… I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”
After facing backlash, she posted an apology two days later and said, “I said something super-ignorant and stupid, basically. And it totally came across that I’m ungrateful for college — I’m going to a really nice school.” Jade made the most of her time on campus, earning sponsorships from Amazon and Smile Direct Club.
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