Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and the college fraud scheme: What to know

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. attorney Andrew Lelling said.

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin made headlines on Tuesday, but it wasn’t for co-starring in an upcoming television series. Instead, the pair are charged in a massive $25 million college admissions scheme.

Federal prosecutors in Boston said the scam led by William “Rick” Singer helped wealthy parents cheat their children’s way into Yale, Stanford and other universities.

"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney in Boston, said at a news conference Tuesday. "For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected."

Here’s what you need to know about the case.

What are Huffman and Loughlin accused of?

The actresses are among dozens of parents who were arrested for allegedly hiring Singer to guarantee their children were accepted into elite colleges.

Huffman starred in the ABC series "Desperate Housewives," among other television and film credits. Loughlin is most known for her role in the ABC sitcom "Full House" and the recent Netflix sequel "Fuller House.”

Loughlin’s husband, clothing company founder Mossimo Giannulli, was also charged in the scheme. Huffman’s husband, fellow actor William H. Macy, was not charged.

Giannulli and Loughlin are accused of paying $500,000 to ensure their daughters Isabella and Olivia Giannulli were able to get into the University of Southern California by cheating on their exams, court documents show. Huffman is alleged to have paid $15,000 for services related to exam cheating on behalf of her oldest daughter Sophia Grace Macy.

Huffman appeared in federal court in Los Angeles Tuesday and was released on $250,000 bond. Giannulli was released on $1 million bond. Loughlin was also expected to appear in federal court Tuesday.

Who else is charged in the scheme?

A total of 50 people were arrested as part of the nationwide investigation dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.” Prosecutors said they believe the scheme is the largest of its kind in United States history.

Of the 50 people charged, 33 are parents, 13 are coaches and the rest are associates of Singer’s business. Prosecutors warned the investigation is ongoing and more arrests are possible.

In addition to Huffman and Loughlin, other high-profile parents who are charged in the case include:

  • Manuel Henriquez, the chief executive of specialty finance lender Hercules Capital;
  • Gordon Caplan, the co-chairman of the New York City-based international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher;
  • Bill McGlashan Jr., who runs a buyout investment branch of private equity giant TPG Capital;
  • Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of the investment management firm Pimco.

TPG Capital said McGlashan has been placed on indefinite administrative leave in the wake of the charges.

Former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoor and former Yale women’s soccer coach Rudolph Meredith are among those who pleaded guilty on Tuesday, according to prosecutors.

Singer, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to federal racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges. 

If convicted, the parents, coaches and Singers’ associates could face up to 20 years in prison for participating in the scheme.

How did the college admissions scheme work?

The parents are accused of making purported charitable donations ranging from $100,000 to $2.5 million per child in exchange for Singer’s help.

Beginning in 2011, Singer allegedly used his test-prep business Edge College & Career Network to offer various illegal services. He is accused of bribing test administrators at two centers — one in West Hollywood and another in Houston — to allow his clients’ children to cheat. College coaches were allegedly bribed to give admissions slots meant for athletes to Singer’s clients, even if they did not play the sport.

Singer helped parents stage photos of their children playing sports or, in some cases, Photoshopped their faces onto stock images of athletes downloaded from the internet, prosecutors said. Once they began attending school, the children who posed as athletes often did not play at all, and those who did show up only played for a little while and then dropped out or faked an injury, according to prosecutors.

Parents also were told to lie to test administrators about their children having learning disabilities in order to secure longer exam times, prosecutors said.

Did the children know what their parents were doing?

None of the children are facing charges, as of Tuesday. Prosecutors said most of the children were not aware of what their parents were doing, though some were involved in the scheme.

How are colleges responding?

In addition to Yale and Stanford, prosecutors said the scheme helped the children of wealthy parents get accepted to University of Texas, Georgetown University, Wake Forest University, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.  

Wake Forest placed head volleyball coach Bill Ferguson on administrative leave after he was accused of accepting bribes, according to a statement released by the university. Yale University and the University of Southern California issued separate statements that they were cooperating with investigators. 

Prosecutors said it would be up to the universities to decide what to do with students who were admitted through cheating.

With Reuters

Lauren Cook