College bribery mastermind William “Rick” Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday to facilitating the largest college admissions scheme ever prosecuted in the U.S. and is now accused of faking students’ ethnicities to get them affirmative action advantage.
Singer, 58, is facing up to 65 years in prison for running the multimillion-dollar scam via his small college preparatory company in Newport Beach, Calif., Daily Mail Online reports. He’s estimated to have pocketed nearly $25 million from wealthy parents looking to bribe their children’s way into some of the nation’s most elite colleges.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said at a news conference earlier this month announcing federal charges against some 50 people involved in the alleged bribery scheme.
Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among those facing charges, as well as several other rich parents, prominent business executives, college athletic coaches, and even SAT/ACT test facilitators.
As part of the widespread scheme, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric S. Rosen told a judge that Singer faked students’ race on college applications by “lying about students’ ethnicities and other biographical information in an attempt to take advantage of perceived benefits from affirmative action and other programs,” according to transcripts obtained by The New York Post.
Created in 1961, affirmative action policies are defined as “those in which an institution or organization actively engage in efforts to improve opportunities for historically excluded groups in American society,” including women and racial minorities. Conservative critics have long railed against the policy, however, calling it a “racist” quota system that gives minorities an unfair advantage over more qualified white students.
The bombshell admissions scandal has illustrated the extent to which the entire admissions system is gamed, however, as details continue to emerge about the great lengths to which Singer and parents went to ensure their children’s acceptance into elite colleges. As conservatives focus on dismantling any perceived advantages minority status might confer on a few in gaining entrance to elite universities, they have long ignored the factor that most unbalances the scales: wealth.
According to court documents, Huffman, who starred on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” shelled out $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could cheat on her college-entrance exams. Prosecutors said Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, paid to have their daughter take the test at a “controlled” testing site, after which someone would secretly correct her answers.
Meanwhile, “Full House” star Loughlin reportedly paid $500,000 to get her daughters Olivia Jade, 19, and Isabella, 20, into the University of Southern California as recruits on the crew team, even though neither of the girls was a rower. In some cases, authorities said Singer even digitally altered photos to graft students’ faces onto the bodies of other athletes to help them fraudulently get recruiting spots on college sports teams.
“In many instances, Singer helped parents take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports,” said Lelling. “Other times, he used stock photos, sometimes Photoshopping the face of the child on the athlete, and submitting it.”
So far, at least three collegiate coaches have either been fired or suspended for taking part in the bribery scheme. As for Huffman and Loughlin, both women are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, crimes punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Singer also faces jail time for his role after pleading guilty in a Boston court earlier this week. Jill Newman, a high school counselor in Sacramento who had several well-to-do students whose parents hired Singer, described the admissions consultant as a “slick talker.”
“People believed him,” Newman said. “But every high school counselor in the area knew about him. He was sneaky from the get-go.”