Updated at 1:28 p.m. ET
Federal officials have charged dozens of well-heeled parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, in what the Justice Department says was a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat college admissions standards. The parents allegedly paid a consultant who then fabricated academic and athletic credentials and arranged bribes to help get their children into prestigious universities.
"We're talking about deception and fraud — fake test scores, fake credentials, fake photographs, bribed college officials," said Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
Lelling says 33 parents "paid enormous sums" to ensure their children got into schools such as Stanford and Yale, sending money to entities controlled by a man named William Rick Singer in return for falsifying records and obtaining false scores on important tests such as the SAT and ACT.
Describing how Singer worked to present his clients' children as elite athletes, Lelling said, "In many instances, Singer helped parents take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports. Other times, Singer and his associates used stock photos that they pulled off the Internet — sometimes Photoshopping the face of the child onto the picture of the athlete" and submitting it to desirable schools.
"Singer's clients paid him anywhere between $200,000 and $6.5 million for this service," Lelling said.
The scope of the case is massive — total of 50 people have been charged in the admissions scheme. The Justice Department said in a statement that dozens of people in multiple states have been arrested but gave no further details.
The scheme operated from 2011 through February 2019, Lelling said, adding that in most cases, parents paid Singer between $250,000 and $450,000 per student.
"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," Lelling said. "They include, for example, CEOs of private and public companies, successful securities and real estate investors, two well-known actresses, a famous fashion designer and the co-chairman of a global law firm."
The parents were already able to give their children "every legitimate advantage," Lelling said, added that they "instead chose to corrupt and illegally manipulate the system for their benefit."
Other defendants in the case include university athletic coaches and college exam administrators — some of whom are accused of accepting bribes. Court documents state that the scheme targeted these schools as part of a "student-athlete recruitment scam": Yale University, the University of Southern California, Georgetown University, UCLA, Wake Forest University, Stanford University, University of San Diego and the University of Texas, Austin.
"There will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy," Lelling said. "And there will not be a separate criminal justice system either."
The charges are part of a complex case that has been kept under seal. Documents related to the case were revealed Tuesday, as Singer pleaded guilty to a number of federal crimes from conspiracy to commit racketeering and money laundering to obstruction of justice, Lelling said.
The parents were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
"Singer owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network LLC ('The Key') – a for-profit college counseling and preparation business – and served as the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF) – a non-profit corporation that he established as a purported charity," the Justice Department said in a statement.
On its website, The Key promises to "unlock the door to academic, social, personal and career success." The foundation says it "has touched the lives of hundreds of students that would never have been exposed to what higher education could do for them."
The court documents detail numerous examples of how the scheme worked. For example, Lelling said former Yale women's soccer coach Rudy Meredith took $400,000 to designate a potential student as a recruit for the team — boosting the student's admission prospects — despite knowing that the student didn't play the sport competitively.
Once the student was accepted to Yale, her relatives paid Singer approximately $1.2 million, including a $900,000 to one of KWF's charitable accounts, according to court documents.
Last April, Meredith allegedly met with the father of a second prospective student in a hotel room in Boston — a meeting that was secretly recorded by the FBI. In it, Meredith offered to designate the man's daughter as a soccer recruit in exchange for $450,000, court documents state.
Meredith resigned his long-held post in November. In a statement to NPR, a Yale representative said:
"As the indictment makes clear, the Department of Justice believes that Yale has been the victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women's soccer coach. The university has cooperated fully in the investigation and will continue to cooperate as the case moves forward."
On its website, KWF described many of the students it helped as having "only known life on the streets, surrounded by the gang violence of the inner-city."
The foundation says it has worked with a number of groups, from Los Angeles-based Ladylike to the Houston Hoops Youth Basketball Program.
In addition to the 33 parents, a dozen people were indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering. This is how they were identified in court documents:
Igor Dvorskiy: He worked as a "compensated standardized test administrator."
Gordon Ernst: Former head of men's and women's tennis at Georgetown University — left that role in January 2018.
William Ferguson: He "was employed as the women's volleyball coach at Wake Forest University."
Martin Fox: He was the "president of a private tennis academy and camp in Houston."
Donna Heinel: She "was employed as the senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California."
Laura Janke: Former assistant coach of women's soccer at the University of Southern California — left role in January 2014.
Ali Khosroshahin: Former head coach of women's soccer at the University of Southern California — left that role in November 2013.
Steven Masera: Accountant and financial officer for the Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation until Dec. 2017.
Jorge Salcedo: Salcedo "was employed as the head coach of men's soccer at the University of California at Los Angeles."
Mikaela Sanford: She was "employed in various capacities" with the Edge College & Career Network and the Key Worldwide Foundation.
Jovan Vavic: Vavic "was employed as the water polo coach at the University of Southern California."
Niki Williams: Williams worked as a "compensated standardized test administrator."
Court documents also name the following defendants as being charged with mail fraud:
Agustin Huneeus Jr.
William McGlashan Jr.
Peter Jan Sartorio