In 2018 federal prosecutors in Boston were working on a securities fraud case, and they had a suspect ready to talk – about a completely different crime. And the tidbit he provided blew the lid off of what authorities now call “the largest college admissions cheating scam ever prosecuted in the United States,” according to ABC News. Perhaps even more shocking were the beloved celebrities who allegedly bought into the scheme – Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
When federal prosecutors headed to Boston in 2018, they had expected to tackle a criminal activity – securities fraud. But stock and investment malpractice wasn’t the only alleged crime they’d uncover on their quest for justice. Instead, they found one of their suspects ready and willing to talk about what he claimed was another deceptive practice going on.
Indeed, an anonymous source spoke to The New York Times and shared that the suspect “knew about a college admissions fraud scheme, and he could help law enforcement learn more.” Specifically, he said he knew that the women’s soccer coach at Yale, Rudolph Meredith, had accepted an alleged $400,000 bribe.
And with nearly half a million dollars in hand, Meredith supposedly fabricated a potential Yale student’s athletic credentials. More specifically, it is claimed that he listed a girl as one of his soccer recruits, although she had never played the sport competitively. But having her name on the roster meant she got into the Ivy League university.
Apparently, the securities-fraud suspect who shared this information did so in the hope that he’d be granted leniency in his own trial. So, the FBI had to follow up on his story to ensure it was the truth. Therefore, in April 2018 the agency organized a faux meeting with Meredith, and alleges that the soccer coach offered a spot on his team for $450,000.
Meredith then decided to cooperate, according to ABC News. He then claimed he was part of a much larger scheme orchestrated by a man named William Singer. For almost 30 years, Singer had been a consultant in the college counseling sector.
Singer also helmed a charity called The Key Worldwide Foundation. When donors sent money to the organization, they allegedly received a letter of thanks. It said, “Your generosity will allow us to move forward with our plans to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth,” according to the Department of Justice.
Once they gave their money to The Key Foundation, prosecutors claim that donors could then deduct the cash amount from their annual taxes. And with a bit more digging, federal investigators claimed to have discovered the truth about the consultant’s charity.
Investigators claimed they had caught Yale coach Meredith in the midst of one of Singer’s repeated schemes. Indeed, they alleged that he roped in multiple coaches and sports administrators from top-tier universities and funneled them cash to admit a student as an athlete. But many of these so-called recruits didn’t even play their designated sport.
And Singer apparently had ways around a lack of proof of athletic skill, according to U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling. He told ABC News in March 2019, “Singer worked with the parents to fabricate impressive athletic profiles for their kids including fake athletic credentials or honors or fake participation in elite club teams. In many instances, [he] helped parents take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports.”
But, according to prosecutors, Singer’s clients had a second option, perhaps if they couldn’t find a willing athletic coach. Parents could also pay his supposed charity between $15,000 and $75,000 to boost their children’s college-admissions test scores. However, this option didn’t involve any tutoring or counseling on the part of Singer, they claimed.
Instead, Singer advised parents to obtain a waiver that allows students with learning disabilities to take more time on their standardized tests, prosecutors claimed. Then, they argued that the test-taking happened in one of three potential ways. For one, Singer could arrange for another person to take tests like the SAT or the ACT in place of his client’s child.
Or, prosecutors said that Singer could have a member of his team serve as the designated student’s proctor – and point them to the right answers to certain questions on the test. The third option had the proctor look over the student’s exam and change answers after the testing period concluded. This prevented many of the children from knowing they had received help, they added.
To that end, all of Singer’s dealings remained hidden from the public eye because he ran a charity. Parents allegedly gave him money that was supposedly a donation, but their cash would end up in their chosen university’s bank account. And, in seven years of running his admissions business, prosecutors accused Singer of raking in a whopping $25 million in bribes.
By the time the FBI caught up with Singer, it said that he had decided to partner up with the investigators. So he allegedly agreed to wear a wire in order to record and implicate parents involved in his scheme, as well as his colleagues. But he wouldn’t walk away scot-free. That’s because he faced counts of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States. And he pleaded guilty to all charges.
Although Singer served as the scheme’s ringleader, he wasn’t the only one facing possible punishment. Ultimately, 50 people faced charges for their alleged involvement. And they included athletic coaches, administrators, test administrators, an exam proctor and 33 parents.
According to CNN, Lelling described those 33 parents as a “catalog of wealth and privilege,” including CEOs, lawyers and investors. Still, among the high-powered list of alleged participants, two names received most of the public’s attention because both belonged to famous actresses – Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
Huffman started in Hollywood in the 1970s, but some of the biggest roles of her career came in the 2000s. First came the dramedy Desperate Housewives in 2004, which ran for eight seasons. And a year later, Huffman starred in Transamerica as the film’s transgender main character. And she later received multiple awards for the part.
Huffman’s husband, William H. Macy, also acts in movies and on TV. And he’s enjoyed major success, having earned an Oscar nomination for his part in 1995’s Fargo. Meanwhile, his leading role on Showtime’s Shameless gave him a trio of Screen Actor’s Guild Awards. He married Huffman in 1997, after they had dated off and on for 15 years.
By 2002 the Macy-Huffman family had grown by two. Indeed, they had welcomed daughter Georgia that year and Sophia two years before that. Once the girls grew up and prepared to go to college, though, the Hollywood couple’s fortunes changed. And it all started with an alleged meeting with Singer.
The authorities have alleged that Singer first came to Huffman and Macy’s home in Los Angeles. At that time, he apparently revealed that he could help boost Sophie’s SAT scores with a planted proctor who would amend her test answers. According to the Justice Department’s complaint, Singer said that “Huffman and her spouse agreed to the plan.”
So, all that Huffman and Macy allegedly had to do was send their donation to the Key Worldwide Foundation. And, with that, the plan was reportedly set in motion. According to the New York Times, Singer advised Huffman to have Sophie request additional time on her test. Then, the newspaper added, the consultant told the Hollywood actress precisely where and when her daughter should take her test.
The newspaper added that Singer would have his proctor oversee Sophie’s test in December of 2017 – or, so he thought. It continued that Huffman allegedly emailed him and said, “Ruh Ro!” She had found out that someone from her daughter’s school would potentially serve as proctor for her exam.
But Singer apparently had a way around this snafu. According to prosecutors, he allegedly directed Huffman to take Sophie to a different testing location where his proctor would be able to administer her test. The complaint claimed, “Ultimately, Huffman’s daughter received a score of 1420 on the SAT, an improvement of approximately 400 points over her PSAT.”
Huffman and Macy allegedly once again met with Singer when their younger daughter, Georgia, got ready to take the same test, according to the complaint. Ultimately, though, it added that the Hollywood couple declined to enlist in the scheme for a second time.
Meanwhile, the authorities charged Huffman with honest services mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. But her husband Macy avoided charges. According to The New York Times, “… It is possible that prosecutors believed they did not have enough evidence to charge him.” To that end, Macy is only an active player in conversations about the allegations surrounding Georgia’s cancelled exam, not about Sophie’s completed one.
So, only Huffman has to face charges, not Macy. Indeed, She appeared in court in March 2019, and the judge required a $250,000 bond to free the actress. She also had to hand over her passport to authorities, as per the rules of her bond.
Meanwhile, alongside Huffman stood fellow actress Lori Loughlin as a Hollywood defendant. Most of the star’s fame comes from the 1990s classic sitcom, Full House. The show – and Loughlin’s part as Aunt Becky – got a more recent retelling on the Netflix reboot, Fuller House.
With her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, Loughlin has a full house at home, too. They have two daughters, Isabella Rose and Olivia Jade. And the latter has a blossoming online career. Indeed, she has more than one million Instagram followers and two million YouTube subscribers. And the young star has also had partnerships with brands including TRESemmé and Sephora.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has alleged that Loughlin and her husband, Giannulli, paid $500,000 in exchange for student-athlete status for both of their daughters. Indeed, neither girl reportedly participated in rowing. But the senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California had earmarked them as potential team members.
Authorities arrested Giannulli, but Loughlin was not home when the FBI served their warrant, the agency said. However, she eventually surrendered, and the couple faced similar conditions for bond. Indeed, they would pay $1 million and surrender their passports. And Loughlin’s agreement would allow her to continue working in Vancouver, in spite of the pending charges.
However, Loughlin’s career took a hit. The actress had a long-standing connection to the Hallmark channel and its televised productions. She had starred in their Christmas features, the Garage Sale Mysteries movie series and When Calls the Heart, a TV drama set on the Canadian frontier.
After the college admissions scandal broke, though, Hallmark cut its ties with Loughlin. Similarly, her daughter, Olivia Jade, lost her partnership with Sephora, and TRESemmé dropped her as a sales partner. The online personality also faced enough virtual backlash that she removed the comments section from her Instagram page.
Indeed, this could be just the beginning of the hard times ahead for Loughlin and Huffman, as well as their families. However, defense attorney Mark Haushalter told The Hollywood Reporter that he believes the fact that many of the defendants in the case were parents trying to help their children should work in their favor in court. He added that, after all, they weren’t “some guy trying to bribe someone to get a business deal.”
Plus, Haushalter said, with so many other defendants, Huffman and Loughlin had the option to compare their alleged crimes to those who it is claimed did much worse. Haushalter explained, “In a case like this, you want to separate the level of culpability and blame of your client and put it onto others.”
And with that in mind, it’s easy to see why Haushalter said he’d hypothetically prefer taking on Huffman’s case to Loughlins. He continued, “I’d much rather be defending a $15,000 bribe than a $500,000 bribe.” Still, the defense attorney imagined that both actresses would walk away with plea deals.
Meanwhile, as Huffman and Loughlin await their verdicts, readers of the story have grappled with what it means to those preparing for college. Teenager Khiana Jackson, who earned her spot at the University of Chicago, told The New York Times, “We can put in work from fifth grade to 12th grade, every single day, come in early, leave late, and it’s still not enough.”
Other students couldn’t believe how much money parents had allegedly paid to get their children into school. Jacob Esquivel, who intends to enroll at the University of Miami, also chimed in. He told the newspaper, “I was mad at the fact that parents spent millions of dollars to pay these counselors to falsify test reports.”
“In the meanwhile, I know everyone in here is figuring out how to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the rest of our college education,” Esquivel concluded. The alleged crime also shows how money potentially allows people to get what they want – even if they might not deserve it.
And that’s precisely why Lelling promised to pursue the case with fervor, according to CNN. He said, “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy. And I’ll add that there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”